Wednesday, August 31, 2022

PFE Class R-30-24 plywood reefer, Part 5

This series of posts describes building a plywood-sheathed refrigerator car, PFE Class R-30-24, from a collection of parts, most of them from Sunshine masters, given to me by Frank Hodina, and the balance provided by Terry Wegmann. Most assembly is now complete; in the previous post (see it at: ), I showed the assembled and lettered car body with most of its details attached. 

Perhaps I should repeat the prototype information: in late 1947, PFE embarked on its last large rebuilding project, converting a few thousand Class R-30-12 and -13 cars (all that remained at that time) to a new class, R-30-24 (or R-40-24, if an occasional R-40-2 car was rebuilt). Notably, these were plywood-sheathed, something PFE had experimented with earlier. For more background and a prototype photo, see the first post in this series: .

In the previous post, cited in the top paragraph, above, I mentioned that the model’s car body had been attached to the underbody. That meant it was time to add the corner sill steps. I used the A-Line “Style A” steps, installed with canopy glue. These are very similar to the PFE style. Here is the model at this point, with those steps unpainted.

My box of parts included some super brass parts for the two-rung steps for under the door. I am not certain who made them originally (I am reliably informed that it was Terry Wegmann), but they are great looking, have nice attachment pins, and are sturdy.

I attached these steps with canopy glue, along with the fan control boxes on the side sill near the fan shaft hub.

Last, I attached an etched metal running board, and ice hatch latch bars, all with canopy glue. I had to hand-bend roof corner grabs to match the roof mounting holes, for which I used 0.015-inch brass wire, and attached them with canopy glue. As the car photo above is of the left side, I show the right side below.

I could now proceed with weathering. This car would be 5 or more years old by the time I model, in 1953, and it has the original paint scheme that it received when rebuilt. But as experienced modelers know, age alone is not a guide to the state of weathering on PFE cars, becuase they were frequently washed until about 1953 or 1954. Naturally one can only guess how many times a car may have been washed since going into service. 

Given that uncertainty, I decided on moderate weathering only. Once the car was weathered and that coat protected by flat finish, I added reweigh decals, route cards, and chalk marks. (All those points of detail have been covered in prior posts, and you could use any of those terms in the search box at the top right of this post to find them.)

With that, this car was ready to enter service on the layout, and I show it below, spotted at Coastal Citrus, a lemon shipper, in my layout town of Santa Rosalia. You can compare its appearance to the next photo above, which was taken prior to weathering and finishing. PFE orange did indeed fade toward a more yellow color, as I’ve tried to do here.

This was a fun build, one I had been looking forward to, and marks completion of one of the two plywood car projects on my bench. Still working through the stash, in a sense.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Operating on a fine N-scale layout

 I had the good fortune last week to participate in an operating session on one of the area’s nicest N-scale layouts, Steve Van Meter's recreation of the early 1950s SP and WP in the Bay Area. With Steve’s permission, I want to show some indications of the quality of this layout. But first, one of those traditional overviews of much of the crew:

At right is John Sutkus, Oakland yardmaster, and at left, facing the camera, is Mike Stewart, Tracy yardmaster. Others in the distance are forming one of those often-seen congestion clumps at a busy part of the layout.

Around the layout, the backdrop skylines are all fairly indistinct, no details, which I personally think is a very nice way to keep attention on the foreground. Here is an example (the train happens to be the Tracy Turn I operated, returning to Oakland).

Steve has endeavored to reproduce the “feel” of the region and the era, while creating several nice switching areas and considerable mainline running. One of the well-done packing-house areas is shown below, containing altogether four packing houses, an interesting and time-consuming switching challenge. The packing houses are in the distance, the mainline is in the foreground. Both fruit trees, at left, and wine grapes, at right, are included here.

Another nice re-creation is the curved Del Monte canning plant (parts of which survive) in Alameda, shown here much like it was at one time. The nearby U.S. Steel distribution facility is below. This is the area served by the Alameda Belt Line.

Another photo will show an example of the many nice touches that abound on the layout. This represents a loading facility for piggyback trailers, where a new installation has been made atop an older yard area. The asphalt paving, over the original brick pavement, has worn through in places. I thought this was really a nice representation of something rarely modeled.

Of course, things can go wrong in operating sessions. Shown below is an example, with Clif Linton holding the throttle with which he has just stringlined an entire piggyback train. (I think the grin is embarrassment, not triumph.) No harm done, all cars were quickly re-railed. This is the kind of thing that makes layout owners pull their hair out (ask me how I know), but in reality are taken in stride by most operators, who, after all, have dealt with lots of problems before.

This was a very pleasant session, the first since the pandemic on this layout, even though some issues understandably arose — and were dealt with. Quite a nice layout, and fun to operate.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Layout origins, Part 2

 In the previous post on this topic, I showed photos from the 1980s of the earliest work in constructing my layout town of Ballard, concluding with what it looked like when the layout was dismantled for moving to California. You can read that post here:

I should also repeat that the track arrangement in Ballard was designed, from the beginning, as a virtual copy of Terry Walsh’s layout town of West Agony (see specifics here: ), because of its versatility as a switching location.

Below is one of the photos that didn’t make it into my cover story in the June 1990 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, showing a freight train of the Lompoc & Cuyama (as the railroad was then known) approaching the Ballard depot. The two industries just above the locomotive are still located in Ballard, but not in this location. The large hill at left would be partly demolished in the move, and later replaced.

The layout parts that were saved from Pittsburgh were in storage in a couple of places, from 1994 until we moved into a second house in Berkeley in 2005, a house that had room for the layout. As the layout was being re-assembled, the Ballard track board (3/4-inch plywood) was simply on edge alongside the layout. Even now, this photo startles me a little.

As I showed in an earlier post, having built my staging transfer table, Ballard could be put in place (see: ). Here is a photo of my staging as it was built, before Ballard was placed on top of it. Notice the limited extent of the backdrop, also salvaged from the Pittsburgh layout.

With the help of my son Cam, we lifted the Ballard track board and placed it onto new supports above the staging. Here you see it about to be put in place. My wife took the photo.

Of course there were no buildings in place, as I rarely glue a structure to the layout. All had been removed and carefully packed for moving when we left Pittsburgh. Below is a view into the Ballard scene right after placing the track board, with two of the salvaged building simply set in place. (Both needed repair). Also note the gap at the bottom of the backdrop. This was to prove a challenge.

This was a somewhat discouraging time, seeing how much needed to be repaired, and I had to also re-connect the track leading from the mainline level up to Ballard. Below you see that project being completed. A few more of the Ballard structures, and a few freight cars, have been set in place, but extensive scenery repair was also going to be needed.

What I’m not showing directly here is the state of the large hill at the end of the layout (see top photo in this post). This had been sliced off to permit moving the end section of the layout, and now had to be entirely recreated. I will summarize all that in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Monday, August 22, 2022

Replacing a fast clock

 Some time ago, I decided that my layout operations could benefit by using a fast clock, because that would open the door for effective use of a timetable based on the Southern Pacific prototype, during operating sessions. My ruminations on that topic were summarized in a post about five years ago (you can see it at: ).

In the post just cited, I mentioned that I liked the features of the GML Enterprises system, and some months later, did indeed go ahead and purchase that set-up for a fast clock. That too was described in a follow-up post (here is a link: ). Here’s how the main clock looks in place:

Since that time, layout operating sessions have worked well with the clock at a 1:1 time ratio (ordinary time rate). I did experiment with a 2:1 ratio, but for a switching-dominated layout like mine, it really was best to use 1:1. The first session with the new clock was described in a post (you can read it here: ).

Then came the pandemic. Like practically all layout owner, I didn’t host operating sessions for almost two years, except for my granddaughter. The clock was operated occasionally, but not often. Then in preparation for my operating session in June, the clock wouldn’t run. Voltage was not getting to the clock unit from the clock control panel.

I naturally thought first about contacting the maker, but the GML company (named for its principal, Gene M. Lewis), is out of business; Mr. Lewis has passed away. I’ve tried trouble-shooting the controls and wiring, but nothing has worked. I am evidently out of luck, not being an electronics person who could dig into the circuit boards to find a fault.

Of course, now that I know that my preferred clock rate is 1:1, I don’t really need a “controllable” clock, but can replace the GML with any regular clock. And they can be found at almost any hardware store, often for prices in the $20 range. So I went out and bought one, shown below as it comes from the store. Most clocks are packaged this way, so you can clearly see what you would get. I chose a fairly classical look for my 1953 layout.

The idea for using such a clock is to take the battery out of the clock until needed for an op session. Then in preparation for a session, take down the clock, and set for the desired time of day to start the session. As soon as the session begins, inset battery and re-hang clock. I will be trying that process in an upcoming session, likely in September.

So with a chance to choose a new clock location, I thought it ought to be somewhat toward the Shumala side of the layout (it’s mostly used by the crew working on that side), but still visible on both sides. Here is how it looks when in place (already set for one of the starting times I use).

I suppose there’s no “moral” to this story, except that you may not need a variable-speed clock if you know you want to operate at 1:1, as I do. And plain clocks like the one I bought are inexpensive and easy to use.

Tony Thompson

Friday, August 19, 2022

A UP automobile car, Part 2

This post continues an account of building a Proto2000 kit for a Union Pacific 50-foot automobile car, particularly the changes needed to the model that are not contained in the kit directions. You can read that post here: .

Meanwhile, I did my usual procedure, drilling and tapping the underbody to accept 2-56 screws for both the trucks and the coupler box. And the rather poor Proto2000 coupler box was discarded in favor of a Kadee box to house the No. 58 coupler.  The wheelsets have the “fat” wheel treads, but since this is essentially a “mainline” car, they won’t be particularly visible on the layout.

Next, I began adding details to the car side: doors and ladders. But before going too far, I needed to face a complication: the UP cars had the door track extend across the tabs I’d already made (in the prototype photo in the previous post, link in the first paragraph above, look at the side sill profile to the left of the double doors). After experimenting with ways to make this fiddly detail, I decided not to worry about including it. Again, it’s going to be a “mainline” car.

Beyond that issue, details were attached entirely by kit direction, until I came to the running board. I decided to use one of the beautiful Kadee 50-foot grid running boards. This class of cars was not built with that type of running board, but after World War II, Union Pacific was active in upgrading running boards to steel grid types, usually Apex like the Kadee part. One welcome feature of these boards is that they already have very nice corner grab irons installed. I attached the running board with canopy glue.

In the photo above, it’s obvious that the sill steps haven’t been added, just waiting until the underbody was mated to the car shell. That prevents the sill steps from being the “outermost” car parts during installation. Though good-looking, these are very thin and thus fragile parts, and I fully expect to be replacing them with A-Line metal steps after a few operating sessions.

Another issue is route card boards. On this class of UP box cars, they were installed on the bolster end at the left of each car side (you can see them in the prototype photo in the post cited in the first paragraph, above). I used a small styrene strip to represent these. Once the route card boards installed and painted, and the steps were installed, I gave the entire model a coat of flat finish, preparatory to weathering.

My weathering method, using acrylic washes is well described in the “Reference pages” that have links provided at the top right corner of this blog post, for anyone desiring more information. For this model, my first decision was to indicate some paint failure on the roof, a common occurrence with galvanized roof panels, to which paint did not stick well. 

Prototype photos show that paint failure on galvanized roofs begins at sharp edges, such as raised panel edges and roof ribs, then spreads. I have tried to reproduce that. I brush-painted Tamiya “Light Sea Gray” (no. XF-25) in irregular patches, inspired by various prototype images. Below is a roof shot, showing how this “paint failure” representation looks, after weathering.

Below is shown the same side of the model that you saw above, after weathering, and addition of reweigh and repack stencils, along with some chalk marks. As the paint scheme would be some years old in my modeling year of 1953, the car is moderately dirty.

This will fill out my fleet of automobile cars nicely, cars that I operate on the layout in through trains between Los Angeles and the Bay Area (loaded one way, empty the other). It will probably show up in the next operating session!

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Central Vermont in Northern California

 Many people reading this blog have likely heard of this ambitious HO scale layout being built under Paul Weiss’s direction in Novato, California. I won’t try to provide a layout description, as there is a well-populated website available with ample information and many photos (that website is here: ). 

In brief, the layout models the Central Vermont in 1956, the southern end of the railroad  between East New London, Connecticut, and Palmer, Massachusetts. Like many layouts, this one had a long pandemic layoff, but it came back to life last weekend with a large crew. As we all saw, layout building had actually advanced greatly during the pandemic, with many buildings added and much scenery moved forward. 

I’ll just show a single example (there are many more on the site linked in the first paragraph above). One town along the CV is South Coventry, which had a classic brick depot (prototype photo below from the layout website, obviously a magazine or book spread). 

Here is the model version as it now appears, obviously a middle deck of three at this location on the layout. But it’s not modeled with snow on the ground <grin>.

An interesting aspect of the layout is that it is entirely built on a raised platform, permitting agent’s offices and the East New London yardmaster and clerk’s offices to be underneath, with a layout-floor-level window into the layout. My assignment was as that yardmaster. Below is a typical view from my office. 

Perhaps this photo shows why I usually was up at layout level, supervising yard work where I could see it. But the space had its use. Note the signal control at left in the photo. This controls the yard entrance signal 25 feet away at the yard limit, and the small video screen above it is a live feed of the area right at the signal, so the yardmaster has an idea which train is there.

But don’t surmise that I think this “low office” idea is bad. Far from it. For the agents, it really is ideal. They get adequate space to work, use telephones, and hand up orders, without intruding into the layout space itself. Here is one example (Paul Weiss photo), with Dan Obermeyer in the chair at Montville.

Finally, I should show the large East New London yard I was supervising. The nearest person is Ray Lorber, switchman, and beyond him is yard foreman Andy Schnur, who did a great job getting all the work done on schedule.

I guess I should conclude with a photo of the man himself, Paul Weiss, who has not only done a superb job in building the layout and inspiring and supervising his many co-workers, but having the vision of what the layout could be, and the drive to make it happen. 

Thanks again, Paul, for the superb layout (work in progress though it is) and for this excellent operating session.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, August 14, 2022

PFE Class R-30-24 plywood car, Part 4

 In Part 3, I showed the completed body (superstructure) box, and the completed attachment of underframe parts and brake detailing, for this model of a plywood-sheathed PFE car of Class R-30-24. (To see that post, use this link: ). Note I have recognized that the old-design underframe on this car makes it a 30-ton car, not a 40-ton car, thus Class R-30-24. Now it was time to detail the body. 

I began by adding grab irons. PFE used simple bolted grab irons on wood-sheathed cars, so I used Westerfield 18-inch brass-wire grab irons for this car, attaching them with CA. I also added the fan shaft hubs and door hinges, black styrene provided among the parts I got. Then it was time to brush-paint the side sills and the door latches black.

Next I attached the side and end ladders. Not all modelers realize that these ladders on the prototype were arranged so that the rungs on both ladders were aligned. You can understand why if you picture a brakeman having to step around the corner, from one ladder to the other. And of course this means that the two ladders must have identical rung spacings.

Below the car body is shown with the above-listed additions and painting, along with the ice hatches. 

Next came completion of the B-end details. As with the ladders and other details, these were attached with canopy glue. Once that was done, I decided to proceed with lettering. For this, I mostly used the outstanding Microscale set 87-501, with Dick Harley’s excellent artwork. But I needed parts of the previous (pre-1946) paint scheme, and used National Car set D182, for PFE Class R-40-14 cars. This yielded the color UP emblems and the words, “ventilated refrigerator.”

For placement of this lettering, it was essential to have on the bench Dick Harley’s superb exposition of PFE painting and lettering, found in the second half of the book, Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide (SPH&TS, 2016), by Dick Harley and me. I chose to letter this model in the 1947 paint scheme, likely applicable to the early cars rebuilt to Class R-30-24. It’s shown on page 136.

Here’s the decal application. Note also that the steel kick plate under the door is now black, as it should be on a wood-sheathed PFE car in this era. 

Next I added trucks and couplers to the underframe (for which, see prior post, cited in first paragraph, above), which by now had been painted black. The couplers were my standard Kadee “whisker” type. For trucks, I consulted the PFE equipment diagram for this car class (you can click on the image to enlarge it, if you wish), with trucks listed at lower center:

My car number, PFE 66240, clearly falls into the series 66030–66542, which received Barber S-2 trucks. There is a Tahoe Model Works truck of this kind, TMW 113, a pair of which I applied to this car. I did have to fabricate some thicker washers for the trucks to sit high enough for the couplers to be at correct height. At that point, I inserted the 30-ton underbody component into the car body, with canopy glue on all mating surfaces. 

With the body now attached to the underbody, I was ready to continue adding body details. I will describe work on those aspects in a following post. 

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Grumbling again about brass freight cars

 As anyone knows who operates a sizeable fleet of model freight cars, from time to time something goes wrong and a car is pulled off the layout for upgrade or repair. It may, of course, merely be a task of replacing a lost sill step or re-installing a coupler, but sometimes it is a more demanding task — and gets put off. Recently I noted that my shelf of “ailing” freight cars had grown, and set out to find what was needed to get them back in service.

It turned out that a bunch of them were brass freight cars of various origins. One of the ongoing problems with such cars can be (isn’t always) coupler box attachment provisions. Brass models often come with a set of metric screws that can secure a Kadee coupler box. That’s a simple attachment.

But not always. I recently repainted an old Precision Scale tank car, and found that the single screw hole in the coupler box pad was a very small (and missing) metric screw. I could simply have added such a screw from my own stash, but its head was too small for the hole in the Kadee box. I could have made a washer, but decided instead to simply drill out the small hole and tap it for a 2-56 screw.

I then discovered that the frame was bent, and had to gently straighten it so that coupler boxes at both ends rode at the correct height. When all that was completed, here is the underbody (I left the coupler box screws unpainted for the photo so they would be visible). Note also that I had to add washers atop the trucks, as the car sat too low otherwise.

Here is the complete car, in its new SHPX paint scheme, depicting a lease to the Western Chemical Corp. of Los Angeles. It’s a nominally 8000-gallon car. Route card and placard also visible.

Another of the issues frequently encountered with brass freight cars is the annoying method of truck attachment. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts (see, for example: ), and also showed the solution(s) I have used, particularly replacing the truck screw that came with the model, with a metric screw of the same size (you can find that description at: ).

I’ve never understood the attraction (to manufacturers) of this kind of “sprung truck screw,” unless it’s to hold trucks aligned for easy placement in display cases. It certainly does no favors for these cars in operation. At one time, I tried to find softer springs, reasoning that less force pressing the truck bolster against the car bolster should make truck swing easier. I never really got a good result, and now just snip the original springs in half (or entirely replace the shouldered original truck screws, as I described in the post that is cited in the preceding paragraph). 

But even these measures will not solve all performance issues, especially for models from what’s called the “middle age” of brass models. That usually means between the first age of durable, somewhat clunkily detailed models that operated well, ending around 1975, and today’s third age of beautifully detailed models with good quality operation — and steep prices. 

In the “middle age,” brass production seemed to be oriented exclusively to collectors, and not only collectors, but collectors who rarely if ever took the models out of boxes or display cases, and certainly never operated them. The common side effect was appalling trucks, which did look like trucks but rolled like sleds. 

Trucks like that simply have to be replaced if the models are to be operated on actual layouts. I have a few in my fleet, models of prototypes that I like to include but simply could not possibly operate with their original trucks. I put those trucks back into the original box, so that whoever acquires them someday when I’m gone and wants the original trucks, will have them with the model. 

For replacements I use a variety of trucks. If I know what trucks the prototype car had, I prefer to use a Tahoe Model Works truck of the same design, since they are accurate representations of specific trucks, roll well, and (unlike some trucks out there) have the correct height. I also have a stash of plastic truck sideframes which, with decent wheelsets, can represent a more generic “AAR truck” if needed. There are examples of both in my fleet.

As a single example, below is a W.A. Drake model of a Southern Pacific 8000-gallon tank car (dome walkway only on one side, typical SP practice). Nice, accurate model, but unlike other Drake brass tank cars I have, this one’s trucks simply could not keep the wheels all in the horizontal plane. That might be stickiness in the bolster ends, or something. But whatever it was, I just couldn’t get it to stop. Easy fix, replace those trucks. 

As should be evident from the foregoing, I expect and demand that my model freight cars operate properly. I am not collecting a display case of beautiful models; I am exercising a fleet of working freight cars in layout operations. That’s part of achieving one of my layout goals: to reproduce the SP railroading of my layout’s locale and era.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, August 7, 2022

More about canopy glue

Years ago, I wrote a blog post about the things I liked about canopy glue for modeling use. Since then, it’s been about the most viewed post of my blog. (If you don’t know it, here’s a link: .) 

Over the years since, my use of this glue has only increased. It is still a superb adhesive for dissimilar materials: metal to wood, plastic to metal, cardstock to plastic, etc. And the most important such use for me, as a freight car modeler, is for attaching etched metal running boards to plastic or resin car bodies. It holds well and tolerates expansion and contraction of the dissimilar parts (unlike CA).

Below is just a single example, an etched-metal running board on a PFE reefer. These are solid, secure, and well attached. Running boards like this that I installed 25 years ago are just fine.

The glue does remain flexible even in its old age, one reason it works so well for dissimilar materials. But it’s impressive how tenacious it is. It’s sticky in a matter of seconds, and holds pretty well in a minute. After an hour setting time, it is very solid, but will get stronger over the next several hours. I like to leave any canopy-glue joint that will handle any load or stress, for 24 hours to fully cure.

(I actually did glue pieces of various materials and wait different lengths of time to see how hard it was to pull them apart. If this sound like a viewpoint of someone interested in strength, I plead guilty. My professional career in materials science was about exactly that topic. For more, see: .)

What is different nowadays is that I increasingly use canopy glue for routine attachment of small parts to anything in modeling. You do have to wait a moment for good adhesion, unlike CA (and canopy glue doesn’t glue your fingers together!), but the final joint is truly tenacious. I have been surprised to try and remove a small part that was attached this way, and to find how strongly it is attached. For a model like the one below (built from a Funaro & Camerlengo kit), I have no hesitation today to use canopy glue for practically anything. It’s my general-purpose adhesive.

It does have one vulnerability: water. Soaking with water will soften the adhesive and joined parts can be pulled apart. I used this recently with some trackwork on the layout. Since ordinarily our railroad models aren’t immersed in water, this is not a limitation — but beware if using water-based scenery techniques around anything glued this way!

So the point I really want to convey is that canopy glue is not a specialty adhesive, used just for attaching running boards, say, but is a much more generally useful glue. I now use it for most glue applications. It’s still available from Pacer Technologies, still called “Formula 560,”under their “Zap” trade name, as you see below on my current bottle. Back in the day, it was usually found only in the airplane models section of hobby shops, but today shops that only sell railroad models carry it too.

I am occasionally asked if this isn’t just another white glue. I  always reply, “emphatically, no.” It is a lot stronger, for one thing, including in comparison to the many “tacky glue” products offered in craft stores. Yes, they are similar, but no, they are not at all the same. Get the good stuff: canopy glue!

Tony Thompson

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Passenger excursions

Railroad passenger excursions were fairly common in the 19th century, and continued throughout much of the 20th century, usually for seasonal events, conventions or holidays. But in the late 1930s, there emerged the concept of the “railfan excursion,” as we might term them in hindsight. This usually involved some sort of railroad enthusiasts club, sometimes just as a social outing, but in later days, often for the chance to ride behind steam, or to see a little-used part of a railroad. 

Southern Pacific was no exception, and the Coast Division, which I model, was certainly no stranger to excursions. In the 1920s, many were for political conventions, but annual Stanford-California “Big Game” specials operated in multiple sections, as did the trains for many conventions of the Masonic “Mystic Shrine.” (For more, see John Signor’s book, Southern Pacific’s Coast Line, Signature Press, 1994.) Even the Boy Scout Jamboree of July 1953 at Irvine saw special trains operated down the coast.

To show just a single example, on October 10, 1937, the new Pacific Coast Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society sponsored a trip from both San Francisco and Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. The late Guy L. Dunscomb was kind enough to share his recollections of the trip with me, and supplied two of his photos. This first shot shows the crowd arriving at the roundhouse, with two GS-2 locomotives spotted (note men on top of both tenders, and people walking everywhere). You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

Another shot, I think from atop a tender on the garden tracks, shows the excursion milling around the roundhouse area, women and boys mixed with the men, in a scene which must have made a few railroad officials feel faint (certainly an unimaginable scene today)

The real purpose of this excursion was to ride on the Pacific Coast narrow gauge. That railroad was on its last legs, but had some passenger equipment still in service for this event (below is an R.J. Berry photo, supplied by Allan Youell). The excursion is shown here passing behind the SP roundhouse, powered by PC 2-8-0 no. 106. 

Behind the three coaches and a combine were two bench-filled gondolas, a caboose, and an old Santa Maria electric car. (For a full account of how this trip was organized by Gilbert H. Kneiss, chapter chairman, and G.M. Best, vice-chair, see Gerry Best’s book, The Pacific Coast Company, Signature Press reprint of the original 1964 Howell-North edition, 1997).

The three coaches were soon after sold to the White Pass & Yukon Railroad in Alaska, where they were all refurbished and retained in service. When a similar Pacific Coast excursion took place in October 1940, the crowd had to be accommodated with five gondolas and the combine.

The point I want to make here is that an excursion like the ones I’ve described is a potential layout operating event. It could certainly be mounted even on a branch line like my layout’s Santa Rosalia Branch (such excursions did take place on branches in the 1950s). Regular branchline passenger service would be long gone by my modeling year of 1953, but this is a way to operate passenger equipment on the branch.

How might that be arranged? A small passenger locomotive, for example my SP Ten-Wheeler, would be plenty of power. A trip like this might require two coaches. It would also be fun to make up a gondola or two with benches, and filled with passengers, but SP, unlike the Pacific Coast, did have ample passenger equipment, so probably bench gondolas are ruled out.

Here’s a possible example, Extra 2344 arriving at the Ballard depot with Ken Kidder brass car SP 1420 masquerading as a Class 60-C-4 coach. Since there are no turning facilities on the branch, the power would have to run around the train at Santa Rosalia, but that’s do-able.

I haven’t yet included an excursion like this in an operating session on the present layout, but expect to do so in a forthcoming session.

Tony Thompson

Monday, August 1, 2022

Baldwin road switchers

To me, it’s an interesting footnote in locomotive history that Southern Pacific was quite a customer of Baldwin diesel road switchers, almost from when they were first introduced. Baldwin, of course, was eventually not terribly successful in the diesel locomotive market, but they had road switcher models before either Alco or EMD did. SP eventually owned over 80 of them, plus ten to T&NO (see Joe Strapac’s Volume 11 in the series, Southern Pacific Historic Diesels, “Baldwin Switchers and Roadswitchers,” Shade Tree Books, 2005). 

And we know that they were used out of San Luis Obispo, according to Mac Gaddis, who worked there. For a portion of one of my interviews with him, see this link: ). The area of California that I model is only about 20 miles south of San Luis Obispo (for more about my layout locale, see: .)

The first of SP’s 6-wheel Baldwin road switchers were model DRS-6-4-1500, meaning “Diesel Road Switcher, 6 axles, 4 motors, 1500 horsepower,” only three units, arriving in 1948. They were followed by 6-motor units, DRS-6-6-1500,  numbered 5203–5212, in 1949. Though delivered in full “Tiger Stripe” paint, as were ordinary switchers, they soon received aluminum end paint. Below is a 1950 photo of SP 5212 on the ready track at Taylor Roundhouse (Stan Kistler).

There was a Stewart HO scale model which was quite close to these early DRS-6-6-1500 engines, and my model was re-detailed, painted, crewed and given a decoder by Al Massi. Here it is passing the Shumala depot with the Guadalupe Local:

In 1954, after my modeling year of 1953, SP decided that these were really road locomotives, and the orange striping went away over the next four years, engine by engine, to be replaced with normal road power “Black Widow” silver and orange wings. Here’s an example, a photo at West Oakland in 1959 (Don Hansen photo).

Apparently SP was pretty happy at first with the DRS 6-6-1500 locomotives, because in early 1950 they received 14 more, SP 5213–5226. Externally they were quite similar in most respects to the preceding group of locomotives; probably the most visible aspect for modelers is that they had dynamic brakes, with open grilles over the resistor grids in the short hood.

By the summer of 1950, Baldwin  upgraded this locomotive to 1600 horsepower with a new supercharger, and designated it as model AS-616.The first models produced went to SP, delivered from September 1950 to spring 1951, 28 units numbered SP 5228–5249. In the fall of 1951, SP began to take delivery of yet another order, this time 29 units, SP 5250–5278. Again, all were delivered with the modified “road” version of the Tiger Stripe scheme (aluminum ends), but in 1954, all began to be repainted into the Black Widow style of road service power.

I have a Hallmark brass model of the Baldwin AS-616 locomotive, with dynamic brake grilles on the short hood (as it should have), and I painted and lettered it myself, as SP 5249. Below it’s shown with the Surf Local returning westward to San Luis Obispo, here just passing the Shumala engine terminal.

The trouble here is that this would be an awfully early repaint in my 1953 modeling year. This engine is a good puller, but I may sell it on, as not really correct for my era — much as I like the paint scheme.

We know that Baldwins were the only SP road switchers in the early transition era, and even by my modeling year of 1953, the Baldwins greatly outnumbered the first new orders for Alco and EMD engines of that type, which all arrived during 1953. So it’s essential that I have at least one in my layout operation. Heck, I may even need another one in Tiger Stripes to replace the 5249!

Tony Thompson