Monday, February 28, 2022

Modeling SP cabooses, Part 4

 In the previous post in this series, I described Southern Pacific’s steel cupola cars, built from 1937 to 1942. For your convenience, here is a link to that post: . Now I want to turn to the major change in SP cabooses that occurred immediately after World War II, the change to bay-window caboose designs.

The advent of 10-foot, 6-inch inside-height freight cars, especially automobile cars, was recognized as limiting train visibility from a caboose cupola. SP was aware that other railroads were satisfied with the bay-window design, so in 1947, they purchased 50 cars of this type from American Car & Foundry. Their numbers followed right behind the last steel cupola car, and thus were SP 1235–1269 for Pacific Lines. A new number series was adopted for the 15 T&NO cars, 500–514.

I show below an AC&F builder photo that emphasizes the distinctive characteristics of new Class C-30-4. The roof was smooth, with internal ribs; the end ladders had a new, rectangular top shape; a large lateral running board was provided, slanted to match the roof contour; and the bay window was not only much lower in height than the car side, but had its roof indented below the bay sides. This is the car’s left side, with four windows; the right side had only three windows.

Soon SP was pleased with the new cars, but instead of a re-order at AC&F, returned to the traditional approach, building them at Los Angeles General Shops. In 1949, they built 80 more bay-window cars. The 50 Pacific Lines cars were SP 1270–1319. The T&NO got 30 cars, numbered 515–544, and like Class C-30-4, these cars were owned by SP and leased to T&NO, 

These new cars were Class C-30-5 and were virtually identical to Class C-30-4 in most respects, but had a conventional freight-car diagonal-panel roof (external “ribs”). Also, the lateral running board was now level, not slanted. A builder view is shown below (SP photo). Note white safety handrail paint on all these cars.

For a side view in service, here’s a good look at SP 1270 in May of 1949, taken at Eugene by Dick Wolf (Louis Marre collection). This is the right side of the car, with three windows and the tool box.

I should mention that these cars, just like the preceding class, were delivered with vermilion ends. Photos that show the color clearly are rare, but Joe Strapac was able to provide one, taken in the lower yard at Dunsmuir in March 1953.

My own brass model of one of the Class C-30-4 cars is from Precision Scale, distinctive flat roof and all, and I made sure its ends were the right color. This is the right side of the car, with the tool box under the side sill.

The final group of bay-window cars in this group was built in 1951, again at LAGS, called Class C-30-6. They were identical to Class C-30-5 and were numbered SP 1320–1369. SP would purchase no more cabooses until the C-40 classes arrived in 1961 and thereafter. And all future SP cabooses would come from commercial builders. Below is an SP builder photo of the left side of this class.

Model-wise, the numerous C-30-5 and -6 cars are obvious modeling candidates, and they have been done in brass by Challenger (both original and 1980s versions). And they too had vermilion ends. Incidentally, the familiar Athearn HO caboose, with a tall bay window, can’t be used for any of these early classes.

Finally, having mentioned the vermilion ends of these early bay-window cars, I should repeat the orange-ends history for anyone who may not know it. The vermilion ends were introduced in 1947, likely part of an effort to increase visibility of cabooses (aluminum boiler fronts were introduced on steam engines, and “Tiger Stripe” orange paint on diesels, for the same purpose). Evidently, though, vermilion wasn’t regarded as successful.

In March 1954, each SP division was instructed to paint the ends of two cabooses aluminum, so that that color could be tested. By that fall, it was agreed that aluminum was preferable to vermilion for visibility, though both were thought to perform poorly in low light. About at the end of 1954, a further trial was undertaken, this time using Daylight Orange (the color of “Tiger Stripes”), again on two cabooses from each division. By summer 1955, the trial was considered successful, and on October 12, 1955, this color was made standard for the ends of all cabooses, system-wide.

Tony Thompson

Friday, February 25, 2022

Modeling SP cabooses, Part 3

 In my previous post, I wrapped up discussion of Southern Pacific’s wood cupola cabooses. These remained numerically dominant in the SP caboose fleet for decades. But in 1937, SP began to build steel cupola cars to modernize the fleet, and that is the subject of today’s post. To read the previous post, you may use this link: .  

I should also mention that the background on today’s post is an entire book about cabooses, Volume 2 in the series Southern Pacific Freight Cars (Signature Press, 2002). The two classes of steel cupola cabooses are described in Chapter 6. 

The first class, Class C-40-1, comprised 50 cars built in 1937 at Los Angeles General Shops, numbered 1000–1049, the first SP cabooses with four-digit numbers. A good photo of one is shown below, taken at Eugene on July 18, 1954. It has the post-1952 lettering, when stripes above the road name and below the car number were discontinued. It still has its original vertical-staff handbrake at each end — not a spotting feature, as some cars got geared hand brakes in later years. (George Sisk photo, courtesy Charles Winters)

In December, 1940, SP resumed construction of steel cupola cars, now identified as Class C-40-3. In the following three months, 50 cars were built, again at LAGS, cars 1050-1099. Then in 1942, 50 more cars were built in the spring (cars 1100–1149) and 115 cars in the fall (SP 1150–1234, and T&NO 400–429). 

Below is a good photo of one of these cars (taken by R.H. McFarland, Arnold Menke collection). It was taken at Bayshore in late 1948, with freshly painted white side handrails. Also visible is the most obvious difference in the C-40-3 cars, the horizontal-shaft, geared Equipco hand brakes, but as mentioned, many C-40-1 cars got them in later years too. 

The cupolas of these cars are fairly different from the wood cupolas on older cars. They had vertical sides, a peaked roof, and roof handrails at corners only. Most cars also had a short segment of running board atop the cupola. This was presumably to offer secure footing for a trainman moving the length of the car’s roof, replacing the outside walkways alongside older wood cupolas. 

Roof views of SP cabooses are not common. One good roof view is below, repeating a Stan Kistler photo from the previous post, taken at Taylor Yard in 1954. The first and fourth cars in the further caboose track are steel cars, the nearest being SP 1232

In model form, several brass importers have offered these cabooses. The old Balboa version was the standard for years, when the only alternative was scratchbuilding. I have one of these cars, as you see below.

In later years, Precision Scale, PFM, and Challenger have all done these cars, and a nice resin version was offered by WrightTrak a few years ago. There are persistent rumors of an injection-molded styrene SP steel cupola caboose, but nothing has yet materialized. I show below my Precision Scale Class C-40-3 car, in morning sunlight in front of the Shumala depot on my layout.

So the steel cupola cars, though some 215 cars in total, were a small fraction of SP’s more than 620 wood cupola cars. Still, with steel wheels and other modern features, they tended to be used on fast freights and other premium services. They are certainly a “must have” for transition-era SP modelers.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Improving a freight car, Part 3

 This series of posts is about describing my process for modifying or upgrading a conventional kit for a freight car to match the desired prototype (within reason) and to make the car meet my layout standards. The beginning of the work was described in the preceding post (see it at: ). 

(Before continuing, I can’t resist mentioning today's date, 2-22-22, a rare kind of date in any century.)

The step following the preceding post was to prepare to add all the detail parts to the car body. I always clear all the attachment holes with a #75 drill, just to make sure they are fully open. Most parts, of course, simply fit where they should fit, and no more needs be said.

This particular kit has a few extra challenges, though. The kit is made to accept a long handrail across the mid-height of the car ends, but the Southern Pacific and T&NO Class B-50-26 cars that are my prototype had no such handrail. I simply cut short lengths of the kit’s handrail, glued them into the holes provided, and cut them off flush with the surface. Biggest advantage of this method: same color material.

When all detail parts were attached to sides and ends, I glued on the replacement doors with canopy glue. Since they had been filed down in height to fit, this was a matter of just placing the doors on the car. 

I left the roof till last. I like being able to hold the body by the insides at the top while adding detail parts. Now I added the roof, and then the Kadee running board with canopy glue. The car is then ready for a coat of flat finish, followed by weathering.

Before leaving car construction, I want to mention two detail parts I very deliberately do not include. One is uncoupling levers. I know from extensive experience that these are magnets for getting snagged in operating sessions. I still have a number of freight cars with these levers, and eventually they become bent out of shape by an errant sleeve or hand, and get removed rather than replaced. Yes, of course they belong on a freight car, and if I were building a contest model, of course I would include them. But not on an operating layout.

The other detail part I deliberately exclude is the air hose and bracket. I fully realize that there are good options for sturdy versions of this part. But these too get snagged in operating sessions, and can interfere with coupler manipulation during a session. After witnessing a few such problems, I decided not to install them any longer, and have removed them for several cars. Just like the uncoupling lever, it’s a compromise for operation.

The model you see in the photo above was next given its flat finish, and then weathered with acrylic washes, in two steps: first, to weather the roof, during which the model is held by the sides; then, when that’s dry, the sides and ends, during which the model is held by the roof and underbody. 

This car is lettered as only a few years old, so I didn’t heavily weather it; but the photo below shows how much duller the body color, and the white lettering, can become, with weathering like this. Compare the photo immediately above.

Finally, I turned to the finishing steps. These involve route cards and chalk markings (for background, see: ). Actual route cards are around 4 inches square, or rectangular. I simply use very small squares or rectangles of paper, white, yellow, manila, etc. and attach with canopy glue. This photo shows the size (different model, of course). On most cars, they go on the route card board.

I also added repack stencils to this model. To do this, I add a paint square over the right-hand truck, black or boxcar red, and add repack stencil decals from Sunshine or Speedwitch. Finally, I use Prismacolor art pencils, sharpened to a good point, to make chalk markings. Here’s the finished result:

So these are the various steps I would pursue to “improve” or upgrade a typical kit for a freight car, to meet my layout standards. As mentioned, these are not “model contest standards,” just operating layout standards.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Waybills, Part 94: handling confiscation of empties

 As most readers will know, the term “confiscation” in railroading does not refer to anything like forfeiture or seizure. But it does mean the appropriation of an empty car to be loaded, though the car may have been headed elsewhere. Today, most freight cars have specific uses, but in the transition era, which I model, there were large numbers of “free-running” cars, meaning cars usable for many cargoes, and those cars could and did go everywhere in North America.

Under the AAR’s Car Service Rules, a foreign empty car not needed on the railroad where it had been made empty should be returned to the railroad from which it was originally received, at the original junction point. That railroad in turn could return the car to the railroad from which it had received the load, and so on. If at any point in this return journey, a railroad receiving the empty had a direct connection to the car’s owner, it would then move the car directly to that owner at the nearest junction.

The idea behind this procedure is that each of the railroads that had received revenue in moving the loaded car, should share in the expense of returning the empty. (Revenue from freight movements was usually shared in proportion to the miles moved on each of the railroads, unless some other agreement was in force.) I’ve provided more on the background of all this here: .

In the photo below, of course, we have no way of knowing which cars are loaded and which empty, beyond the obvious exception of the open-top cars. (detail of SP photo, Fred Hill collection) This is of course equally true for model freight cars.

This photo was taken in the early 1950s at Los Angeles Yard (usually called Taylor Yard). The distant hills are Griffith Park. The large building in the middle distance at right is the PFE ice plant. The switcher in the right foreground is a Mikado. That this locomotive type was being used for yard work shows that  we are viewing the long shadows of the twilight of steam.

But any of the railroads handling one of these empty cars could interrupt that journey and “confiscate” it for loading, provided of course it was suitable for the intended load. As a number of modelers have discovered, modeling this process is not as simple as it might appear. That’s the subject of the present post.

When a layout has a system of model waybills, however modeled, it is customary to have, in addition to waybills for loads, a provision for the empty car to be moved also. I have discussed the Empty Car Bill, for example, numerous times, and past comments can be found easily by using that name as the search term in the search box at the top right of this post.

But if, as is convenient, we pair an Empty Car Bill with a waybill for a load, as shown in the photo below (with a side-entry sleeve format), we are constraining car movement. How do you confiscate a car with this paperwork? If we leave these bills alone, the car cycles off the layout when empty.

Obviously, the key is to override this pair of bills in the sleeve. The most obvious way is to remove the yellow Empty bill from the sleeve, and substitute some other paperwork. It could, for example, be a different Empty bill, directing the car to another town on the layout. This would be realistic, since an agent could well fill out such a substitute Empty bill. It might look like this, if handwritten:

Alternatively, one can use an agent message to direct movement, just as is done with any re-spot. (To find any of my blog posts about agent messages, you may use that term in the search box at the top right of this post; or you may like to read this one: .) An example is below.

In this message, the agent is directing the crew to move an available empty box car, C&S 17235, now somewhere at Ballard, to the team track for loading. In this case, of course, it is essential for the crew to understand that the agent message supersedes the waybill sleeve, which may contain an Empty Car Bill.

So the bottom line is, managing empties via confiscation requires a little thought beyond the routine movement of such cars in a reverse-of-loaded direction, as normally happens. I am still experimenting with ways to do this, and will report further on future developments.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Modeling SP cabooses, Part 2

 In the first post in this series, I provided a broad-brush treatment of Southern Pacific’s largest caboose class, C-30-1. It was of course abstracted from a much larger and more complete source, my Volume 2, Cabooses, in the series Southern Pacific Freight Cars (Signature Press, 2002). If you’d like to read that post, it’s here: .

Today I want to address briefly the other wood cupola cabooses. At the beginning of 1928, SP decided to incorporate all the changes that had been evolving with ten years of construction and usage of Class C-30-1 cars, including the 1927 decision to return to full-width cupolas, into a new Class C-30-2. But otherwise the car exterior remained very much like Class C-30-1. And as previously pointed out, by this time all car numbers were re-used numbers from much older cabooses that had been scrapped.

Below is a clear photo of Class C-30-2 car SP 290, photographed at Bayshore in January, 1948 by Richard W. Biermann (Arnold Menke collection). The large tool box beneath the side sill was only on the right side of the car, as you see here. The Vulcan trucks are replacements, added to this car in 1940. The lettering is that used from 1931 to 1946, lower on the car body and with SP initials only. White side handrails would be painted white a few months later.

Only 50 cars of this class were built in 1928. A new caboose design was introduced in 1929, Class C-30-3, distinguished by steel body framing (the body framing of previous cars was completely wood). On a completed car, of course, this framing was inside the car — except at the side sill, where the bottom ends of the framing were visible. And all cars again had re-used car numbers.

The photo below of SP 5 shows these framing ends clearly. This is the left side of the car, thus no tool box (it can just be seen beneath the car, on the other side). The photo was taken by Wilbur C. Whittaker at Oakland in July, 1949, and the car has the then-standard white handrails. The Vulcan trucks had been applied in 1938.

Models have sometimes been lettered as Class C-30-3 but without the exposed framing, an obvious error. But Precision Scale did do this class correctly. My car is shown below. Its cupola roof just has four corner grab irons, as was common in later years.

Cupolas are a complicated issue for lots of the wood cabooses in later years. Roof shots are rare among SP caboose photos, but below I show one taken from the pedestrian bridge at Taylor Yard in 1954, a great image by Stan Kistler.

In this photo the second track has two wood cupola cabooses in the middle of the four cars shown. The nearer one is SP 162, built in 1925,  and beyond it, SP 618, built in 1917. 

The cupola on 618 is a replacement full-width one, but SP 162, nearer the camera, has its original narrow cupola; notice that the side walkways are removed. Note also on 162 that the wood walks on the roof at the ladders are missing. 

On the the foreground track are two more wood cars, flanking the bay-window car, unfortunately without either C-30 car being very visible. But we can see that both cupolas have full-around handrails, as does SP 162 on the track behind it.

Having a few C-30-1 cabooses in one’s fleet with replacement cupolas can be a nice touch. There used to be a white-metal cast cupola from Silver Streak,  a slant-side design, and I have seen these on eBay. Below is what it looks like. As mentioned in the previous post, cupola appearance alone is not a spotting feature for the various classes of SP wood cabooses, because many were replaced.

The wood cabooses wee very numerous, and thus important to modelers, but next I want to consider steel cupola cars. There are two of them in the Stan Kistler photo above, and I will discuss those cars in a following post.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The “Blue Box” 50-foot box cars

I now want to turn to the other half of the original challenge about the Athearn “Blue Box” models: the 50-foot cars. Athearn made two of these in that day: a single-door car and a double-door car. (Until 1954, all double-door box cars were defined by the AAR as “automobile” cars, regardless of what cargo they carried or how they might be assigned.)  This post is about the double-door cars.

For the 40-foot box cars, the introduction of the 1937 AAR standard box car design meant that most cars produced were built to that standard, though of course there were exceptions. But before World War II, there was no AAR standard for 50-foot cars. That’s relevant because here again, Athearn modeled their 50-foot box cars with sharp-cornered Dreadnaught ends, a pre-1939 characteristic.

Just as many railroads badly needed new box cars in the late 1930s, thus purchasing great numbers of the 1937 AAR 40-foot design, so did they need 50-foot cars. But the lack of a standard meant that many versions of an all-steel 50-foot car were built. Inside heights ranged from 10 feet (like the 40-foot car), to 10 ft., 4 in. and 10 ft., 6 in. Door openings varied from 10 to 16 feet. Each railroad chose how it wanted to “stretch” the 1937 40-foot design.

Southern Pacific, to choose one example, built 10 ft., 4-in IH cars with 4/5 ends, as you see in the photo below (General American photo). They chose to “stretch” the 1937 40-foot design by using the same side sheets, but with four to the left of the double door, and six to the right (let’s call this s “4-6” side sheet pattern). A number of other roads did the same.

But some railroads felt that more side posts would stiffen the car body, and thus used narrower side sheets, and more of them. For example, Union Pacific built 50-ft. cars with 4 sheets to the left of the double doors, and 7 to the right (a “4-7” pattern), with the added complication of Alternate Center Riveting.  There were also 3-7 and 5-7 patterns built before World War II. 

In 1942, there was finally an AAR standard design for a 50-foot double-door box car. It had 10-ft., 6-in. inside height and a 5-8 side-sheet pattern of equal-size sheets. Some railroads built these after the war.

Why do I mention side sheets? Because the Athearn 50-ft. double-door car has an unusual 4-7 pattern, with not all side sheets the same width. You can see it below on this model. (You can click on the image to enlarge it.)

This kind of 4-7 pattern was built by some railroads after World War II, but the Athearn model has a 1937–1939 type of 5/5 end. This means, as far as I know, that the Athearn model, as literally interpreted, has no prototype. Richard Hendrickson used to say that he did not know of one either, but was not certain. If a reader of this blog knows of one, please let me know.

The model I show above, incidentally, is obviously a stand-in, as both its end rib pattern and side-sheet pattern do not match the prototype photo. Note also in the prototype photo above that the SP cars did not have the long under-door stiffener of the Athearn model. 

Nevertheless, as with the “Blue Box” 40-foot car, we can upgrade the appearance, even for stand-in cars like the one above. Replacement of the running board and brake wheel come first, as I’ve mentioned (see the post about that at: ). Either steel-grid running boards (from Kadee or etched metal) or wood running boards are easy replacements; many pre-war cars got steel running boards after World War II.

Further, just as with the 40-foot car, a new brake wheel and an improved brake step are useful upgrades that help disguise the “Blue Box” origin of the model.

Lastly, I will mention the side doors. The ledge that serves as a bottom door guide is not quite as wide as on the 40-ft car, but nevertheless can be sliced in half, and the notorious “claws” removed.

In addition, the comments made previously about cast-on ladders, sill steps and grab irons certainly apply, along with the problem of the mirror-image underbody brake gear, as described in the final post about the 40-foot “Blue Box” models (see that post at: ).

So yes, the 50-foot double-door box car has limitations as a model, along with an unusual combination of side sheet and end rib patterns, but certainly can serve as a stand-in, especially for what I call “mainline” use, meaning only seen in passing trains. But its inaccuracies and limitations mean it is not a good starting point for  a serious  model.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Modeling SP cabooses

 This is a general topic, and of course can range from the earliest days of the Central Pacific, up the very late days of the Southern Pacific itself, prior to the Union Pacific takeover in 1996. Each period of 20 years or so naturally has a different car fleet to consider. I’m just going to talk about the time from post-World War I, up to the end of the 1950s in this post.  I will only summarize the history; there is a quite extensive and detailed book on this topic, Volume 2 in my series Southern Pacific Freight Cars (Signature Press, 2002). 

I will begin with SP’s largest class, by far, of cabooses, the Class C-30-1. In the latter part of World War I, SP began construction of the C-30-1 cabooses. These were quite similar to the preceding Harriman Class CA cars, but with a full steel underframe. (The CA cars had had oak center sills from bolster to bolster, though steel draft gear was applied.) Toward the end of the preceding Class CA construction period, a “narrow” cupola was introduced, with walkways along each side of the cupola. This cupola was continued with Class C-30-1. It’s shown below. Note slant sides, railing around entire roof circumference,  and walkways alongside.

 The photo above is a classic view of a C-30-1 car, taken at Bakersfield on September 18, 1948, by Richard W. Biermann (Arnold Menke collection). This car was built in 1926 and re-uses the number of a much older car. It still has its original narrow cupola. The paint and lettering are up to date for the 1948 photo date: spelled-out road name, and white side handrails.

After building about 300 new cars of this class, numbered up to 899, SP began to re-use the lower numbers of retired cars, and that is the case in the photo above. Awhile back, I supplied a partial history of the SP Class C-30-1 cars, those that had the re-used, lower car numbers. That post is here: . Eventually SP built over 620 cabooses to this design, far more than any other SP caboose class.

Modelers will know that Walthers produced an accurate and quite nice plastic model of the Class C-30-1 cars, complete with narrow cupola of the original configuration. Here’s a photo.  Like the prototype photo above, the model shows post-1946 lettering and white handrails.

Up until the late 1940s, most of these cars had black roofs, which was actually car cement (mopped on with a string mop!), over the canvas covering of the wood roof. But from then on, SP painted the roofs body color, as they had done on all-steel cupola cars from their inception. That’s why the model above has a roof of body color.

Starting in the last year of Class C-30-1 construction, 1927, SP returned to the full-width cupola it has used on the early Class CA cars, in the first decade of the 20th century. It was still slant-sided and of course had no side walkways. That same cupola was applied to following classes C-30-2 and C-30-3, and to any older cars needing replacement cupolas — which is why cupola configuration alone is not a spotting feature for SP cupola cabooses.

Still later, after 1937 when the first steel cupola cabooses were built, SP designed a new, steel replacement cupola for older cars. It had straight sides, and over the following 20 years was applied to  many older cabooses. Shown below is a Balboa brass caboose, which many modelers relied on before the advent of the Walthers model, and the very nice Precision Scale brass cars.

You may note that this model has a replacement cupola, corner handrails only on the roof, and a center roof walkway, changes that began in the late 1940s on some cars.

The Class C-30-1 caboose is an essential part of any SP modeler’s fleet in the transition era, and even into the 1960s. Its huge numerical dominance meant that it was by far the most common caboose, even though in later years the steel cupola cars and the new bay-window cars began to be used on mainline trains. But I will discuss those cars in future posts.

Tony Thompson

Monday, February 7, 2022

Experiments in layout photography

 Like everyone who reads the model magazines and sees gorgeous layout photography, month after month, I often get the “itch” to make better photographs of my own layout. One way to get great angles, close to what an HO-scale photographer would get, is to use a cell phone. It’s so much smaller than an SLR lens, as I have written before (you can see that post at: ).

I’ve gone back onto the layout recently and tried some new angles and some new subject areas.  As with any photography, lighting and framing of the desired image is essential. Back in 2015, I wrote a post about this background (see it at: ). The great advantage with any digital camera, including a cell phone, is that you see right away what you captured, and can immediately correct anything undesirable.

One subect that I enjoy photographing is the Common Standard 22 depot at Santa Rosalia, at the end of my branch line, with a couple of railroad crewmen in the photo. The structure is an American Model Builders LaserKit. I wrote a four-part series about building it, a most satisfying project (here’s a link: ).

Another area where I think the modeling supports photographic opportunities is my winery building (adapted from an old Magnuson kit). Here is the loading platform, with a 6-compartment wine tank car alongside, with Nipomo Street in the foreground.

An additional scene often photographed is at the scratchbuilt Shumala depot, with three individuals having a conversation on the platform. Building this structure was the subject of one of my ”Getting Real” columns in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the issue for November 20212. The issue is still available to read online or download, for free, at: .

Further, here’s a view across the team track at the town of Ballard, with the depot in the right background. Two individuals are loading a box into a truck, likely part of the cargo shown on the freight platform alongside the house track.

Finally, here is a view looking up Alder Street, at its junction with Pismo Dunes Road, where the Union 76 gas station is located. I wrote a series of posts about this kitbash of a City Classics kit; you can retrieve them from the concluding post (which is at: ). In the background at right is the Phelan and Taylor packing house, and in the left background is Caslon Printing. This is the far end of East Shumala on the layout.

These few shots do show some potential for good points-of-view on the layout, and the lower perspective available with a cell phone camera, is more like a bystander photograph than the usual “helicopter” layout view. I intend to continue with these efforts.

Tony Thompson

Friday, February 4, 2022

“Blue Box” box car upgrades, Part 4

 Well, this has gone on long enough, as some readers might say, so I will wrap up in this conclusion of the series. I am identifying the various shortcomings of the Athearn “Blue Box” plastic 40-foot box car, and the fixes in some cases, in response to a “challenge” from a reader. In the previous installment, I dealt with the side-door problems on this car (see it at: ). 

Now, many readers who have come this far, and who know this model, will be thinking, “why not talk about grab irons, ladders, and sill steps?” Certainly it’s true that these cast-on features of the Athearn model are shortcomings. To be sure, the grabs and sill steps are  a simple problem: they are easily sliced off and replaced with metal parts. 

The ladders are tougher. Totally removing the side ladders is a bit of work, but there are good replacements. An alternative is to slice out the cast-on “rungs,” for example with a hobby-knife blade ground down to the width of the ladder stiles (upper knife, below) from a standard chisel blade, then replace the rungs with wire or styrene rod. (I’ve only done this on one car.)

But then one confronts the cast-on end ladders. Instead of the ladder stiles forming “bridges” across the “canyons” between the Dreadnaught ribs, they instead are fills in those canyons. Removing them is a long and tedious job with small files and abrasive paper. Back in the day, modelers would clean up one end, an “A” end, make a mold of it, and cast replacement ends that could receive good ladders (and good “B” end brake gear). But now this is getting to be a big project, as was the side door — on a model with almost no prototype.

Finally, there is what one modeler I know calls the “final insult.” The Athearn underbody is reversed from what it should be. The brake cylinder is on the wrong side of the center sill (see arrow below), and doesn’t “point” to the handbrake wheel, as it and its linkage should. What the heck is wrong?

It turns out that in the railroad engineering business, there is a drawing convention that underbody brake gear is drawn as though looking down through the floor. But evidently Athearn interpreted such drawings as the more usual draftsman’s view, looking at the outside of the car from beneath. Thus the mirror image. 

Below I show an Athearn car (the lower model) and an InterMountain car (above). You can readily see that the brake cylinders are on opposite sides of the center sill, though both have their pointed end to the left (the B end of both models is at left). Naturally the reservoir and valve are also on the wrong sides.And by the way, the Athearn underframe is crudely rendered and no rigging or piping is provided.

Of course one can correct this location problem, slicing off the Athearn brake gear parts and re-gluing them in the right place, but they are so crude that one really ought to replace them — and of course add some brake rigging. But as with so many parts of this model, is it really worth your time to make all these corrections? Remember (as I have already shown: ), the model has almost no prototype.

I do have a few of these “Blue Box” 40-foot models still in service, with some upgrading, but have never gone to all the lengths described in these posts, nor will I. There are several far better models to use as starting points for pre-war 40-foot box cars. 

And having made that point as clearly as I could, I will bring this series of posts to a close. But the original challenge was to discuss both the 40-foot and the 50-foot Athearn “Blue Box” cars, and I will turn to the 50-foot cars next.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The role of an outfit track

 Southern Pacific often designated spur tracks at various locations as “outfit tracks.” This refers to their potential use at any time for a work consist, such as a ballast renewal outfit, a tie replacement outfit, or any other set of work equipment doing company work. I included such a track in my layout town of Ballard, so that I could use it for work equipment. It’s shown in the schematic map below, alongside the diagonal main and siding tracks. (You can click on it to enlarge if you wish.) 

In principal, such an outfit track would be unoccupied from time to time, but presumably it was installed with the expectation of use, so I usually do spot equipment there, and in operating sessions, do sometimes move cars to and from the track. My approach is to move cars that would likely need to come and go, such as water cars to be refilled, or cars delivering supplies for the track or bridge gang that is working.

The car most commonly seen on the Ballard outfit track is a dining-kitchen car, which I converted from a Model Die Casting “Old-time” baggage car. A description of that conversion is in a previous blog post (you can see it at: ).

An earlier post showed the background, construction and decoration of two other cars, a MOW box car and the water tank car seen above (that post is here: ). These cars are frequent visitors to the outfit track.

A water tank car, spotted at the outfit track as you see above, was primarily used for potable water for the crew working at that location. But another water car that makes an occasional appearance is a fire-service tank car. I used the beautiful Albrae Models brass car to model this kind of equipment, and showed the car in a blog post (at: ). 

Another type of car that is seen on the outfit track is the open-top car, for example gondolas of ballast or new ties, partial tie loads having been shown in a previous post (located at: ). Full tie loads are also a regular spot on the outfit track (below). The water car is often spotted behind the dining car, as you see here.

 Additional open-top cars include the different kinds of dump cars. I did paint and letter a brass model of a Magor dump car for this use (for a description, see: ). 

And one more type of open load may be creosoted timbers for the bridge gang. I have shown such a load, and an accompanying waybill, previously (see that material at: ).

Finally, all kinds of supplies for the work crew stationed here may be delivered in MW box cars. I have made up several of these, mostly using Westerfield kits of Harriman-era box cars, obsolete in mainline service but still soldiering on in MOW service. Here’s one of them, freshly spotted on the outfit track.

To give a single example of the kinds of waybills used here, I include below the bill for the car shown above, marked as a non-revenue bill. Southern Pacific did have a separate waybill form for non-revenue car movements, but I’ve been told that regular freight waybills were often used too. This is an example.

The outfit track on my layout, something of a passing fancy when originally designed, has proved to supply a lot of opportunities for car movements and considerable variety in cars spotted there. I’m glad I had that idea, way back when.

Tony Thompson