Monday, November 28, 2022

The 1956 SP renumbering

 Most modelers interested in freight cars are aware that, starting in 1956, Southern Pacific renumbered almost all its freight cars into a new system, largely with six-digit numbers. The new system was first promulgated in late December, 1955, and it is possible that no cars received the new numbers until 1956, thus the usual name for this, the “1956 renumbering.’ Evidence from Official Railway Equipment Register (ORER) issues is that the process was virtually complete by the end of 1958.

This renumbering is one of several changes in SP freight car practice that make a “great divide” in car appearance in the mid-1950s. The other major one is the introduction of sans-serif road names in large letters, reflecting SP public-document style after World War II. Thus one can compare a box car like the Class B-50-23 example shown below (Pullman photo for SP)

with a post-1956 repaint and new car number like this one (SP photo), also Class B-50-23; the round circle-and-bar emblem was retained until 1957. Subsequently, the circle-and-bar was discontinued, and the large sans-serif road name moved to the right of the car door.

In my five-book series entitled Southern Pacific Freight Cars (Signature Press), I gave examples of all the car renumberings, class by class (more on that in a moment). 

But SP had already realized, by the fall of 1948, that five-digit car numbers simply were exhausted. That fall, orders of both new 40-foot box cars, and 53-foot gondolas, were delivered with six-digit numbers. Between 1948 and 1956, more and more car types began to receive six-digit numbers (for example, flat cars after 1949, hoppers and covered hoppers after 1951). But the apparent “system” underlying these car numbers was entirely replaced in 1956.

A single-page summary was released on December 23, 1955, by the Office of the Superintendent of Motive Power (which also oversaw rolling stock), and I show this below. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.) All this information, of course, is in my five-book series.

This was followed a few days later by a nine-page document giving the details for every class of freight car then in existence on the railroad. I show below just one example, page 3, for solid-bottom gondolas.

In addition, a similar document, seven pages long, was released in early 1962 when T&NO freight cars began to be incorporated into the SP and its system numbering. That information also, of course, was included in all the relevant parts of the five-book series.

All this is usually well-known for transition-era SP modelers. For the modeler who does not specifically model SP, this kind of information is important in creating accurate SP freight cars for whatever period is chosen, especially for the pre-1948, pre-1956 or post-1958 modeler. Car numbers in particular are distinctive markers of the era in those ranges of years, and realistic modeling calls for having the right kinds of car numbers for the period chosen.

Tony Thompson

Friday, November 25, 2022

Waybills, Part 103: timebook ads, conclusion

 As a wrap-up on what I regard as an interesting topic, the ads found in the timebooks used by train service employees, I want to show one more batch of these ads. I have written some comments on the background for timebooks, and on the ads and their use, for which I suggest the previous post in the series (see it here: ).  

Most of the pages of ads that I will shown here are from a 1950 timebook for Southern Pacific’s Coast Division. As I have mentioned before, some are clearly aimed at railroaders’ personal lives, but others are interesting business ads.

Above you see ads for a savings and loan, and an auto dealership; but also some produce companies and San Jose’s FMC Corp., an obvious source of inbound waybills for any packing house or food handling business. Below are another two pages from this timebook:

In this pair of pages, there are again some obvious personal businesses, but also Pacific Hardware & Steel, along with the Western Pump Company we saw in the 1946 Coast timebook (link shown in the top paragraph of the present post).

Thirdly, I will show a single page from this 1950 Coast Division book (at right, below), and a single page from a 1948 Western Division book (at left).

 Once again, there are obvious personal-type ads (a clothing store and a drug store) but there is also an interesting logo for a concrete pipe company, Spiekerman, that could readily be used on a layout industry building, or as a placard on an open-car load. From these pages, though, I decided to make a waybill for the Gladding Bros. clay products company, to an on-line customer that uses a team track on my layout:

I continue to find these groups of ads in booklets used by train service employees very interesting, providing as they do a window into that world of some 70 years ago.  That they can also yield ideas for waybills in layout operation is simply a plus.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Some comments about a layout visit

 Over the years, I have visited many layouts during open-house events, and have also operated on a considerable number of different layouts. I often say that I have never visited any layout without seeing something interesting, or seeing some decision by the layout owner, often a problem solved, that I find worthwhile to learn. But I usually only write blog posts about operating qualities.

Today I want to make a partial exception: it’s a comment about a layout where I operated, but I also want to offer an appreciation some of the aspects of the layout I enjoyed most, beyond operation. The layout belongs to Dave Loveless, who lives near Watsonville, California, and he models the Southern Pacific Coast Line in the general area where he lives. The layout (if I recall correctly) is set in the immediate post-World War II era.

The layout runs well, with very rare derailments or electrical glitches, and it has an operating scheme that is both interesting and fun. I have run several of the local freight trains on the layout, and also have very much enjoyed the principal yard at Watsonville Junction. Last weekend when I was there, I again worked in that yard, and had the pleasure of having one of Mark Schutzer’s fine 0-6-0 switchers for power. I’ve always liked the “sausage” tenders that many of these switchers had.

The scenery on the layout is mostly simplified, but illustrates how much can be accomplished with minimal approaches. Note above how the simple “horizon” line sets you in the real world without any details whatsoever. Another example is the scene below, with a simple painted backdrop having a “distant” horizon line, and a number of foreground trees. The soil in the area near Monterey is indeed sandy, as you see here, and the track doesn’t dominate the scene.

Included in the layout is the Army’s Fort Ord, primarily a basic training facility for much of its life, but with considerable rail traffic. For the model builder, the advantage of an army post is the similar-looking buildings, in this view barracks and warehouses, a look that I think Dave has captured very well. These groupings of the structures accomplish a convincing, simple representation.

Lastly, I will mention the layout structures, many of which are simple paper stand-ins. Some modelers may look down on such structures, but they readily serve their layout purpose. Just one example is shown here, Watsonville Ice & Cold Storage. I like that it’s a big enough building to justify the three-car spot.

I also felt that among the layout structures are a number of which really have character. Shown below is the back of a saloon, but it would fit into any alleyway anywhere. (Not, of course, that I would know anything about the alley doors of saloons.) Maybe it’s not a great structure, just one for which I liked its looks.

It’s a trip of a full two hours for me to Watsonville, but I always enjoy the journey to operate at Dave’s, and look forward to more visits in the future.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Waybills, Part 102: More timebook ads

I explained in a previous post that often the timebooks used by train service employees were ones provided free by private printers, who paid for them with the ads they contained. The ads were sometimes directed at the personal life of railroaders (clothing stores, taverns, shoe stores, gas stations), but also were frequently the names of rail-served industries. I suppose these were for business good will. To see that post, use this link: .

In the present post, I want to show a few pages from another Southern Pacific timebook, this one dating from the Coast Division in 1950. I have chosen the pages for their interest in realistic operation, minimizing the ones that are personal in nature. Here are two pages from the front and nearly the back of the book. (You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.)

Here there is really only one somewhat personal ad, the Hotel San Carlos at Monterey. We also have the General Box Co., two ice companies (I like the slogan, “ice never fails” in the National Ice ad, doubtless a swipe at possibly-less-dependable mechanical refrigeration), a vegetable grower at Guadalupe, and a farm machinery dealer. Here are two more pages:

These are especially interesting because of all the packing houses that felt the impulse to advertise to railroaders. And here is a third pair of pages, with some of the ads considerably smaller, but once again, a considerable number of packing houses:

This example happens to include a company that both built pumps, and also sold the pumps of others, doubtless for irrigation purposes. Since I have a company on my layout that builds specialty pumps, moving a few such pumps to the Western Pump Co. in San Jose would be appropriate. Here is how an illustrative waybill might look, drawn from this information.

These ads from vintage timebooks of the locale I model are excellent sources of information for me, but notice also, for all you modelers in faraway places from California, all the packing houses that can be shipping to your own layout’s on-line grocers or other receivers of produce. I have found these booklets not only quite interesting, but also valuable as sources of industry names.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

The SP book on MOW is coming soon!

The long-awaited book about Maintenance of Way (MOW) equipment of the Southern Pacific is finally nearing release, scheduled for early in the new year. Author Kenneth Harrison has been working on the book for over two decades, thoroughly researching all extant SP records at the California State Railroad Museum and elsewhere, and an enormous amount of information has resulted. Publisher is the SP Historical & Technical Society. Here’s the cover:

The book covers the histories of more than 50,000 MOW cars and equipment, illustrated with more than 1200 photographs, most never before published. I’ve seen the proofs, and believe me, this is a stunning amount and richness of information.

The full price of the book is $149.95, doubtless enough to curl your hair if you haven’t been keeping up with Society books. But I want to make two points. First, this is a huge book, 8.5 x 11-inch size in landscape format, and 495 pages. If you know the five-volume series of magisterial books on SP passenger cars published by the Society, you know what I’m talking about:

The book shown above, Volume 2 of the passenger car series, is about 100 pages larger than the MOW book, but note, it is fully 1.5 inches thick, so the MOW book ought to be around 1.25 inches thick. These aren’t just physically big books, they are big in content too, packed with information. In my opinion, a book with this kind of completeness and background of research is a bargain at the price. 

There is a substantial member discount, from the full price down to $119.95, a saving of $30. In fact, members have already been mailed a flyer to reserve a copy. How does that discount stack up against a membership? Annual membership is just $45, as you can determine at the Society’s web site, .

“Well,” you may say, “that’s almost a wash,” but you will get four issues of the Society’s outstanding quarterly magazine, Trainline, in the bargain. You may even decide you like belonging to and supporting the Society.

So if you have any curiosity or interest in a car like the one below, this book is your authority. It happens to be a former Class B-50-2 box car, converted to a cook-diner, and photographed at Salinas, California in November 1937 (photographer unknown, Arnold Menke collection).

But it isn’t just this kind of converted work equipment that is covered. Also included are plows and flangers, wrecking cranes and relief outfits, pile drivers, shovels, ditchers, water cars, test and supply cars, shop switchers, and more.

Finally, I want to point out that already the published SP historical record is enormous. The Society has published the five-volume series on passenger cars and a companion volume on official cars. Signature Press published a five-volume set of books on SP freight cars. And Joe Strapac, Bob Church, and colleagues have extremely thoroughly documented the motive power of the SP, both steam and diesel. This MOW book will be a proud addition to that impressive and distinguished record. I’ve already reserved mine.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Waybills, Part 101: industries from timebooks

An ongoing problem in preparing realistic waybills for model railroad layout operation is the identification of the off-layout industries from which your on-layout industries receive loads, or the off-layout destinations for your on-layout shippers. One can of course make these up, if desired; but what if you would like to have actual ones to use?

I have written extensively about sources of such information; for links to some of those posts, I urge you to use the search box at right, or to consult my summary guide at: .

A source I have not seen mentioned, but which I have used myself, are railroad employee timebooks. These were intended for train-service employees to record their trips, especially the time consumed on each trip, for payroll information. But often these books were non-railroad-issued documents, privately printed and provided free because they contained extensive ads. And it’s these ads that are of interest.

I will show a few examples. I particularly rely on several Southern Pacific Coast Division timebooks, but I have seen books from other divisions. Most of the ones like this that I have seen, are 5 x 8-inch upright books with cardstock covers; sometimes they are 4 x 7-inch upright books. Ads are sometimes only in extreme front and back pages, sometimes they border almost all pages. 

To illustrate, here is a blank Shasta Division 1946 timebook page spread (date known from the dates of the employee seniority lists elsewhere in the book). You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

Note that the “business part” of the book is the blank entries for employee assignments. But note too the fascinating variety of ads, obviously some of them intended to appeal to a rail’s personal life (the tavern and the lounge). But note also the customer businesses (Klamath Falls Brick and Tile) and the businesses that might be both customers of the railroad, as well as serving its employees (the grocery).

Just to illustrate how a book like this was used, I show below two pages of Barry Anderson’s timebook for part of August 1953 on Coast Division. It’s a combination of yard jobs (all the ones noted as 8 hours) and road jobs. Barry sent me this copy. But this part of this book had no ads.

Usually at the front or back of these timebooks there would be included a division seniority list (one way we know the division of origin of each book). Shown below is another pair of pages from the 1946 Shasta Division book. The ads flank the list, and here they are all personally directed (who wouldn’t want to visit Ray’s Place?), though the Coca-Cola bottler might be rail-served.

For a contrasting example, I just show two pages (pages 2 and 54) from a 1948 SP Western Division timebook, pages chosen to emphasize railroad customers rather than the more personal ads (except of course the 704 Club at lower right, with the helpful information, “railroad pay checks cashed”). This is a 5 x 8-inch size book.

Can we use these? Absolutely. Just as an example, consider the Fruitvale Canning Co. of Oakland, with ad at lower left in the pages above. The fruits and vegetable they were canning were doubtless from the immediate East Bay and nearby Santa Clara Valley (long before it became known as Silicon Valley), but that wouldn’t preclude buying fruit from a little farther away if needed. Thus one could create a waybill something like this (as would fit my own layout);

I will show additional timebook ad pages in following posts, but the introductory description here helps explain what these are and how they might be used.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Heavyweight sleepers, conclusion

I have been describing a conversion of an AHM (Rivarossi) heavyweight Pullman sleeper, from its original 12-1 configuration (12 sections, 1 drawing room) to a 10-1-1 floor plan (10 sections, 1 compartment, 1 drawing room). In the last post about the project, I showed completion of the roof with its air-conditioning ducts (it’s here: ).

Now only completion of the car remains. I’ll begin with trucks. The AHM trucks are a decent representation of the prototype truck used by Pullman, what they called “Style 2411A,” so their appearance is all right. But there are some operational problems that do need to be corrected. The photo below shows them (the trucks shown are lightweight-car four-wheel trucks, but the principles are the same). The photo is a repeat from an earlier post (see it at: ).

First of all, the Talgo-like coupler tongue, shown above at left, is molded with a horn-hook coupler. These are, of course, grossly poor in having not even a ghost of prototype appearance, but also problematic in that they don’t behave well if the car has to be pushed instead of pulled at any point. 

My solution is to cut off the horn-hook and drill and tap the tongue for a 2-56 screw (center). Then the Kadee box is attached with a flat-head screw (arrangement at right in the photo). This is the ideal arrangement: a Kadee coupler in its own box. I recommend a flat-head or pan-head screw for clearance under the diaphragm.

Note also in the photo above the AHM wheelsets. They comprise half-sets, a wheel and half an axle each, connected with an internal steel rod. The good news about this arrangement is that it is easy to correct an out-of-gauge wheelset; the bad news is that the wheelsets are free to get out of gauge. And the flanges are oversize. 

I often replace AHM wheelsets with Kadee wheelsets. Prototype passenger cars normally used 36-inch wheels, while classic-era freight wheels, like the Kadee ones, are 33 inches in diameter. But the original AHM wheels are also 33-inch size, so to keep the coupler tongue at the correct height, using freight wheelsets is in fact the correct answer. And of course you get better flanges.

I should also mention the attachment of the AHM Pullman trucks. It’s a friction pin, which can work well when new, but inevitably gives trouble after some time in service. As I have mentioned for the AHM lightweight cars, the simplest solution is to drill out the pin attachment holes with a No. 30 drill, glue in a short length of 1/8-inch styrene tubing (Evergreen No. 224), tap for 2-56, and then use a screw of that thread to attach the trucks.

I have used a remarkable variety of diaphragms on my model passenger cars over the years, including a variety of home-made ones (to see examples, you can use “diaphragm” as the search term in the search box at upper right of this post). For the Lake Merritt, I combined a diaphragm folds from one in the scrapbox, with a new striker plate. I also replaced the poor AHM brake wheel with a brass Cal Scale one.

That completed the project. You can note in the photo above that both the roof and the diaphragm striker plate are weathered. This was done with my usual method based on acrylic washes. Most railroads washed their passengers cars fairly regularly, but that wash only involved the car sides, not roof or ends, so those areas should certainly show some dirt. Here’s the final product, shown on my layout.

This was a fun addition to my fleet of heavyweight passenger cars, and probably concludes my conversions of the old AHM cars to different floor plans. I have enjoyed doing them all, but likely already roster more such cars than are needed on my present layout, so I don’t expect to do any more.

Tony Thompson

Monday, November 7, 2022

Remembering Allen McClelland

As many readers will know, W. Allen McClelland passed away on October 28, barely 10 days ago. He was 88. Older model railroaders were universally saddened by this news. Younger modelers may wonder exactly why, and I want to say a few things that may help explain.

Allen’s model railroad, called the Virginian & Ohio, was a free-lance Appalachian coal-hauling railroad, but as the phrase goes, that’s like saying the Big Boy was a locomotive. The layout was immensely influential — more on that in a moment — but Allen was a delight to know, as practically anyone who ever met him can testify. 

I had the good fortune to live in Pittsburgh during the heyday of the original V&O layout, and had the privilege of visiting the V&O and operating there, as the Dayton, Ohio area is not at all far from Pittsburgh and part of the same NMRA region.

It was indeed an impressive layout in person (including the memorably dim lighting . . . until your eyes adjusted) and the first time I visited, there was still some steam power on the layout. The train schedules, the complete scenery everywhere — it was something you rarely saw in those days.

Coincidentally, just at the time I had moved to Pittsburgh for a new job in the spring of 1977, Railroad Model Craftsman magazine (RMC) was beginning what would be a seminal series of articles about the V&O. The nearly new editor of RMC, Tony Koester, helped bring into being a full description of not just Allen’s layout, but the principles and ideas that Allen had followed.

These articles were collected in 1984 into a fine book, The V&O Story, published by Carstens Publications, reprinted several times, and still available from on-line booksellers today. My copy is well worn from frequent use and re-reading.

But Tony Koester has long wanted to update and extend this recognition of Allen and his modeling, and has been at work on a new book. Luckily, he and Allen were able to collaborate on it, and Allen did see proofs and approve much of the material in the book. It’s due for publication by Kalmbach in January. You can be sure I will get a copy as soon as possible!

So what is all the fuss about? The most famous point made about the original layout, which I believe was coined by Tony Koester, was the principal of “Good Enough,” referring to every aspect of the layout. Scenery, structures, signalling, motive power, rolling stock — all of it to the same (good) standard of modeling, none of it exceptional. For some, I know, this was a liberating idea: you didn’t have to super-detail everything, or have every model on your layout be a contest-quality model.

Another point emphasized by Koester in the magazine series (and first book) was that Allen fully bought into the idea of recognizing what is “Beyond the Basement.” That means that the modeled railroad isn’t a self-contained entity, but interchanges with adjoining railroads, and is part of the national railroad network. Not an original idea with Allen, but an important one in setting the character of the V&O.

For me, the third aspect of the V&O was the most important. Allen envisioned his V&O’s Afton Division as not merely interchanging with other V&O divisions and other railroads, but being a vital partner with them. A number of scheduled trains were part of schedules across the entire V&O, and even part of trains that ran with partner railroads. Allen properly called this the “Transportation System” concept. 

This I think was the turning point in recognizing, as Tony Koester has said, a layout need not be merely something to entertain yourself by building a series of models. It can instead reproduce, within our space and time limitations, real railroading. That was certainly a major recognition for me.

As I worked on my layout in Pittsburgh, I soaked up the V&O ideas, even though my locale and era diverged considerably from Allen’s Appalachia. I implemented Allen’s update of the Doug Smith car-card and waybill system, using 3 x 5-inch cards, like this (with waybill inserted into a clear plastic pocket on the right half of the car card); note the initials at lower left, W.A.M.:

Like anyone who ever met Allen, I remember how pleasant and unassuming he always was, a friendly man who welcomed everyone to his layout. And when someone would come up to him, for example at an NMRA Regional Convention and start to gush about the V&O, Allen would look embarrassed and try to talk about specifics. He wasn’t embarrassed about the V&O, of course, just about the adulation.

This is the Allen I remember, a photo from when he was about 50 years old. A wonderful individual, a great model railroader, and an unassuming pioneer in the hobby. May he rest in peace.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Waybills, Part 100: a guide

 I thought that for this post, I would try and collect some information about what sub-topics I had posted about, within the broad subject of waybills. You will see examples below. I hope that this post will help direct you to the specific things you want to read about. 

For example, I have written a number of posts about prototype waybills: how they were prepared, how they were used, and what was done with them. To me, that’s an entirely separate topic from the design of model waybills for layout operation, or the ways that we use them in model operating sessions.

So here goes, listed chronologically by “Part” number, as in the title of the present blog, within each section below. To use the search box at upper right, a good search term is “Waybills, Part XX,” where “XX” is the part number you want. But obviously having around 100 entries below means that even this summary is a cumbersome guide. At least here you have them listed under categories.

Summary or multiple-post links:

Prototype waybills, content: 

Prototype waybills, handling:

Specific kinds of prototype waybills:

Model waybills: design for my layout 

Model waybills, design for the use of others:

Model waybills, preparing and handling:

Model waybills, use in operating:

So there they are, over 100 posts on the broad set of topics I’ve called “waybills.” I hope this listing is of some value as you seek information on these topics. And I am sure there will be more posts in the series, as time goes by.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Prairie Rails 2022

For the second week in a row, I was off traveling last week to another operating weekend, this time the well-known Prairie Rails event in Kansas City. Their normal time slot has been at the end of February, but rather than wait until then, they chose to put on the event during the last week in October. I visited or operated on eight layouts altogether, but rather than mention them all, I will just write about three.

The first, one of my favorite layouts anywhere, was John Breau’s Great Northern Butte Division, a transition-era layout. The first job I had was one of the local freights, a great job because of all the outstanding towns John has built for the layout. For example, I show below my train departing from Dutton, Montana, behind a Class F-8 Consolidation. This was fun to switch, operated flawlessly, and required planning to do efficiently. Who could ask for more?

Incidentally, I spotted one clever feature on the layout (among many) that I want to mention here. If you don’t have enough space for a convincing stockyard that can load four stock cars at a time, why not conceive of it being located mostly in the aisle? Then you only have to model the loading chutes and outer fence. Nice concept!

Another layout on which it’s always a pleasure to have the privilege of operating is Bob Willer’s Spokane, Portland and Seattle, set in 1967. Here I worked the Wishram yard, under the direction of Yardmaster Phil Monat. We had some lucky breaks with the right trains coming along to pick up a lot of our cars, and we suddenly realized the “yardmaster’s dream,” an almost empty yard (that’s a departing train at the rear of the photo). And that’s Phil at left, planning our next moves.

Lastly, I want to mention Bill Scheerer’s excellent smaller layout, the B&O Monongah Division in the transition era. It has gorgeous color position-light signaling, understandable since Bill retired from CSX as Chief  Engineer, Communications and Signals; you may recognize his name from the OpSig’s excellent book, Compendium of Model Railroad Operations, for which he and Mike Burgett wrote the chapter on signal systems. 

In addition, the layout ran perfectly, and was fun to work. Here again, I got an interesting local freight to do some switching. The parts of the layout that are scenicked are really nice. Below is just one of them, his Kingwood Mine.

This was an intense few days, but really enjoyable, since Kansas City has so many excellent layouts. We were lucky on the weather, and I was lucky in the layouts I was assigned, and that all added up to an outstanding weekend.

Tony Thompson