Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Building a Dry Creek ballast car

In an earlier post (at: ) I described the new “Hart convertible” ballast cars being offered in kit form by Dry Creek Models and its proprietor, Robert Bowdidge. The car bodies and parts were 3-D printed with a Form One Plus printer, about which you can learn more at the Dry Creek website (see it at: ).

I recently discovered, looking at old posts, that I never completed my description of actually building one of these cars. In this post, I will briefly touch on the construction process of these fine models. Mr. Bowdidge currently does not offer the models, but he may return them to production. If you’re interested, contact him at: .

My first step was to drill and tap 2-56 the screw holes for draft gear and trucks. The resin with which the car bodies are printed is tough and not hard to drill, but as the kit directions advise, the drilling and tapping should be done with care to avoid any risk of breakage. I had no problem with this. 

I might mention, though, that to get threads well into the hole for the truck screws, without danger of breaking through into the floor of the car, I used a “bottoming tap,” also called a plug tap, which means a tap with cutting ability almost right to its tip, instead of tapering up the tap shaft as on a conventional tap. It enables cutting threads to the bottom of a blind hole. You can buy these from lots of industrial suppliers. To find a source, just Google “bottoming tap.” 

Next, I fitted the end sills onto the body. With just minimal clean-up with a file, these fit excellently well against the body. The kit directions advise filling any gaps with modeling putty, but I really did not have gaps. Next was drilling holes for the grab irons, to be made from the 0.010-inch brass wire supplied. But an immediate issue arose. Where are they located?

It’s clear from photos in my book, Volume 1 of Southern Pacific Freight Cars, entitled “Gondolas and Stock Cars” (Signature Press, 2002), that these cars were built with a vertical grab iron on each of the four corner posts of the body. (This is what the kit directions instruct you to install, which is fine for as-built cars.)

But in 1926, many cars were modernized, and those vertical grabs were replaced with a horizontal grab iron at each end, supported on a short post. This photo, a detail of page 44 in the book (which provides history of these cars), shows this. Note photo date, 1930. In the modernization, the side doors had been replaced with solid planking. (You can enlarge the image by clicking on it if you wish.)

This photo is also a good view of the K brake cylinder. The linkage to the hand brake staff at the nearest car corner shows a challenge for modelers: if the linkage is modeled as it shows, it will limit truck swing. I installed the linkage closer to the side sill, raising it up above the truck sideframe.

I decided to install the horizontal grab irons as shown above, using short posts of scale 4 x 4-inch styrene attached with canopy glue. The sill steps were made from A-Line “Style A” steps, attached with canopy glue. I installed a brass wire brake staff, soldered to a Cal-Scale brass brake wheel (see: ), and a brake rod from the K brake cylinder to the end sill behind the sill step (see photo above).

With these added details, and Kadee coupler boxes put into place so they can be painted with the rest of the model, I spray-painted everything with Tamiya Fine Surface Primer (Red Oxide). This not only covers well and leaves a nice thin coat, but has a semi-gloss surface that is ideal for decals. Here is the right side of the car body, in the center-dump configuration, at this point:

Note in this photo that the car body I have is the original configuration, with side doors in place. But I’ve modified the car with the rebuilt side grab iron arrangement, so my model is a bit of a compromise. 

Trucks for these cars are an interesting topic. When built, they used the early-style Andrews truck favored by SP, with a long tie-bar running under the bottom of the sideframe (visible in the photo above). In HO scale, the long-tie-bar Andrews trucks are made only by Kadee, their truck #509 or 553 (the old “sprung” versions) or #571 and 1571 (new HGC trucks, the latter with 0.088-inch wheels).

In later years, many cars were given replacement trucks, and photos show that T-section and U-section trucks of various kinds were used. But SP did keep the old Andrews trucks in service on some older cars and company-service equipment. I chose to reproduce that, since the Hart convertible cars were on their last legs when I model, 1953. Accordingly, I chose to use the #1571 trucks. 

After applying decals, and a protective coat of flat finish, I weathered the car fairly heavily. The method was my usual acrylic washes, as described in the “Reference pages” linked at the top right of this post. This is the left side; you can see the brake rigging if you enlarge the image (by clicking on it).

Many years ago, there was a Silver Streak (SS) kit for a representation of the Rodgers Company’s “Hart convertible” ballast car. I rescued one in derelict condition at a swap meet and repainted and lettered it for SP. Here is that car, which was built as set up for center dumping. It represents the rebuilt Hart convertible cars, so is taller than the Dry Creek model.

Unlike a number of early Silver Streak models, it is accurate HO scale, rather than the oversize (essentially OO scale) size found in some other SS kits. It is far cruder than the Dry Creek 3D-printed model, but does capture the overall look and feel of the rebuilt prototype, and is nice in that it has the underbody truss set back behind the side sill. I’ll just be careful not to run the two cars together!

I’m happy with my Dry Creek model of an SP Hart convertible ballast car, even though it represents a rare car by 1953. I do run ballast trains in some operating sessions, and this car will fit right in.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Waybills, Part 110: livestock bills

I have given an introduction to the subject of livestock waybills in a previous post, just summarizing some of the features distinctive to that type of waybill (see that prior post at: ). I would like to expand on that description, using actual documents. In this case, they are Colorado & Southern documents from 1952, generously shared with me.

We begin, as would the prototype sequence of documents, with the Bill of Lading. Its appearance suggests it was typed by the agent, at the depot in Ludlow, Colorado, in the extreme southeast corner of that state. (Here, as with all the documents, you can enlarge the image by clicking on it.) All four of the documents are dated February 21, 1952, and are typed in the same typeface, likely all at the same time.

Let’s look at what is here. First, the destination is Comanche, Texas, about 40 miles east of Brownwood in west Texas. The routing is via C&S into the northeast corner of New Mexico, and then at the Texas border (Sixela, New Mexico), transfer to the Texas subsidiary of the Burlington, the Fort Worth & Denver City, en route to Forth Worth. There the car will transfer to one of the Santa Fe’s Texas subsidiaries, the Panhandle & Santa Fe, to take it to the final destination.

The car, CB&Q stock car 58127, is a 40-ft. car. As noted in the lower part of the form, a 36-ft. car was ordered, but one not being available, a 40-ft. car was supplied. This matters because the freight rate depends on the car supplied. The shipper may have been canny, realizing that 36-ft. cars were scarce, and gets a 40-ft. car for the 36-ft. rate.

The cargo is 32 head of cattle. The car is to be weighed in transit; the notation SL&C means “shipper load & count” the cattle. The shipper is shown as “John Doe,” a way to avoid having the shipper (likely a rancher) himself having to sign documents (note the signature of that name), and the consignee is also identified as “John Doe,” likely for a similar reason. It’s noted that the car was bedded by the C&S, that is, a layer probably of straw, was placed in the car.

The shipper has also agreed to the 36-hour waiver, that is, the normal 28-hour limit on confinement of the animals in the car has been extended with the shipper’s agreement. This also is signed “John Doe.”

The agent also prepared a message to to Trinidad, Colorado, 14 miles away and the first station this load will pass after leaving Ludlow. It provides the time that loading was completed, 1 PM. 

Finally, the agent typed the waybill. It incorporates all the information in these preceding three documents. Note in particular the list of questions just above the cargo section. This is one of the distinctive parts of the standard livestock waybill. It includes the bedding, 36-hour waiver, and more. Note also at the bottom, the provision to record unloading after 28 or 36 hours, feed supplied, and reloading.

Let me mention in passing that the foregoing descriptions of events are based on my understanding of the process. If any reader can correct or amplify what I’ve written, please do so.

Documents like these define for us how our model waybills ought to look — provided of course that we want our model documents to capture the prototype appearance. To me, documents like these are an irreplaceable guide to the operation of my layout.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Modeling in O scale, conclusion

My small excursion into O scale model railroading began, as I’ve said, with my good friend, the late Larry Kline, when we both lived in Pittsburgh. Larry was a very skilled modeler and an O scale devotee, so being able to get modeling tips from Larry, and also enjoying running my own O scale freight cars on his nice layout, were real motivations. And of course, as mentioned in previous posts, the sheer size and detailing of the models was a strong attraction to a “freight car guy” like me. 

(I’ve described a number of my models, including several freight cars and the locomotive and caboose, in prior posts; they are most easily found by using “modeling in O scale” as the search term in the search box at right.)

In the present post, I want to talk about two more freight cars, and say something about my display case. First, the freight cars. Both were imported brass models by Pacific Limited (PL). This company, run by Pat O’Boyle, earned an excellent reputation for accurate and solidly-constructed models. Sadly, Pat passed away in 2007 (he was only 62), cutting short extensive planning for a number of additional projects.

The first of the two PL cars is a 40-foot flat car. It is described on the box as a “40' FISH BELLY FLAT CAR.” Brass dealers widely identified it as an SP flat car. The model does indeed have a deep fishbelly center sill, as did many SP flat cars. But it also has a deck that does not extend out to the outer surface of the stake pockets, as did SP flat cars of this type. Having written the book on SP flat cars (Southern Pacific Freight Cars, Vol. 3: Automobile Cars and Flat Cars, Signature Press, 2004), I can confidently state that SP never had a 40-foot flat car like the Pacific Limited model.

Examination of a variety of prototype information sources quickly discloses quite an accurate prototype match for the PL flat car. It’s a class of flat cars built for the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis in 1926. Below is a photo of one of these cars, from the 1928 Car Builders’ Cyclopedia, page 186.

And since that same Cyclopedia volume also includes good drawings of this car (page 189), it is understandable that a brass importer might choose the car to reproduce, just as has been done in HO scale styrene. The car happens to have a distinctive design, including a cap along the top of the side sill that covers the ends of planks in the deck. Here’s one corner of the plan view of that drawing, clearly showing the covers of the planking ends.

The drawing above corresponds exactly to the model’s deck, as built by PL.

I painted the model, including trucks, with Tamiya Fine Surface Primer (Red Oxide), which gives a good surface for decals. The decals were from Ted Culotta, for NC&StL 70227. (There is a corresponding set in HO scale from National Scale Car, D186: .)

After decaling, I gave the model a protective coat of clear flat, and weathered it with acrylic washes, emphasizing making the deck look like wood in service. But because I couldn’t distress the brass deck, I didn’t apply heavy effects. Couplers not yet installed in this photo.

The second PL model is a General Service or GS gondola, the same type I described in the previous post in this series (you can see that post at: ). This one is an Enterprise-design gondola of the kind purchased in large numbers by Southern Pacific in the 1920s. These were evidently sturdy and useful cars, because they survived in large numbers throughout the 1950s and beyond.

This brass model had the typical PL solid construction and accurate detailing. And when I bought it, there was an option to get the model with factory paint (though no lettering). This was attractive, as factory paint is usually nicely done and well bonded.

Imagine my dismay when the model arrived in black paint! To the best of my knowledge, no GS gondola owned by SP was ever painted black. I swallowed my disappointment and repainted it boxcar red, being careful with my airbrush to make sure all the complex underbody areas got painted. Decals for SP 92327, Class G-50-11, are from the same Protocraft set as the car in Part 4 (link two paragraphs above).

To sum up my O scale excursion, here is my six-foot long O scale display case in the layout room. Most of the rolling stock you see here has been described in previous posts on this topic (a couple of cars were omitted). This case was made for me by Rich Wagoner, a friend when I lived in Pittsburgh. 

This completes what I wanted to say about my small collection of O scale rolling stock, and the SP steam power and caboose for it. I do like O scale models, and I enjoy having this equipment finally on display.

Tony Thompson

Monday, June 19, 2023

Operating session videos of my layout

 I was asked recently if any video is available that shows my layout. The answer is certainly yes, with altogether three videos that I know of. I should be quick to add that I wasn’t participating in making one of these while it was being made, though I was in the room. 

All three of the videos depict, or are intended to illustrate, what happens in actual operating sessions on my layout, and the third one was made during such a session. 

Best known, and properly so, is the TSG Multimedia video, that was shot professionally in the fall of 2019. This is the most thorough and complete and certainly most polished of the videos. If you’d like to watch it, here’s a link:  .

The TSG Multimedia video has had almost 46,000 views and attracted 64 comments.

Two other videos of the layout were made by Adam Palmer. One of them, part of a school project in which he made videos of a number of layouts, was filmed and narrated from a script he had written. This one is generally quite well done, though I didn’t always feel his narration was what I would have said myself. 

That video was made in May of 2018, and I wrote a blog post about it, which is at: . This video has had over 29,000 views and some nice comments. To watch that video, go to: . Here’s its “cover shot,” a view across the turntable and engine terminal at Shumala.

In addition, Adam filmed a second video during a live operating session. It accordingly is in places disjointed and the background conversation somewhat distracting and usually not entirely audible. But it has the advantage that it’s a real session. That session took place on June 24, 2021, with Adam, Jim Providenza, Lisa Gorrell, and Richard Brennan. Here’s a link: .

As it happened, the opening shot for that video was also at Shumala, this time showing the town switcher at work sorting cars.  In this view, there’s a steam locomotive on the outbound engine track, probably the power for the branchline train being made up by the switcher.

The two operating sessions on that weekend in June 2021 were the topic of a blog post I wrote soon afterward. If that’s of interest, here’s a link: .

I know many people feel that they get a far better idea of a layout from videos, rather than close-up photos or landscape scenes. That is certainly true of the high-quality TSG Multimedia video, the first one linked in the second paragraph at the top of this post, and may extend to the others. If so, I hope you enjoy seeing how my layout is operated. 

Tony Thompson

Friday, June 16, 2023

Small project: adding a Viking boxcar roof

Many modelers in HO scale are aware that Des Plaines Hobbies in the Chicago area, years ago, produced a very nice styrene Viking roof, made to fit into a Red Caboose 40-foot box car body. (By the way, these roofs appear to be in stock at the moment: .) I bought one on a visit to the store awhile back, intending (some day) to choose a railroad’s car to model that wouldn’t duplicate a Viking car I already had. And there the idea rested, for some time.

Now some readers may well be asking, what’s a Viking roof? It was a proprietary roof design of the late 1930s, one of numerous efforts to design a steel roof that resisted the natural bending and working of the car body in motion and remained water-tight. It had galvanized steel panels that ran all the way across the roof with no seam at the peak, and panels were tightly clamped at their seams (not riveted). Each panel had five stiffening ribs pressed into it. Here’s a photo of one (C&O Historical Society).

Last year, I happened onto a Red Caboose 1937 AAR box car kit for sale at a swap meet, and luckily that small, faraway bell tinkled — I remembered the Viking roof sitting at home — and I bought the kit. The kit overall is a simple build, so I won’t go into the steps where I just followed directions. But how would I letter it?

Looking at some research materials, I knew that the Erie had bought a bunch of 1937 cars with this roof, about 1700 of them, but I already had one on my roster. Likewise, C&O had 1000 of them, but again, I had one. And the C&NW owned almost 2000 of them, but doggone it, I had one of those too. But aha! I noticed in my list that the CMO had over 1200 of them! and I don’t roster a single CMO car! Off we go.

A majority of the stock of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway Company (nicknamed “The Omaha Road”), with reporting marks CMO, had been owned by the Chicago & North Western since 1882, obviously of long standing by the time I model, 1953, and was listed on the C&NW pages in the Official Railway Equipment Register (ORER) as part of the “Chicago and North Western System.” Naturally the CMO’s 5000 or so freight cars, a small fraction of the C&NW’s 44,000 cars, looked very much like C&NW cars except for reporting marks.

Below is a photo of one of these cars (courtesy Steve Hoxie, see comment below), from the series CMO 20400–21398 (500 cars, even numbers only), built by AC&F in October and November 1941. It has a panel-design door. Like all the Viking-roof cars built for CMO, it was modified from the original 1937 AAR design with greater inside height, 10 feet, 5 inches, and W-corner post ends. If you enlarge the image (just by clicking on it), you can see the edges of the Viking roof.

[Just a short comment on the photo. Judging by the background, this is almost certainly one of the many freight car photos taken by Paul Dunn at Zanesville, Ohio, circa 1957. Unfortunately, a couple of photo sellers have made copies of Paul’s images and then sold them with no photographer credit. Steve Hoxie had no information about the photographer.]

I added weight inside the car body, using a pair of 5/8-inch steel nuts attached with canopy glue, as I normally do with cars like this. I then attached the perfect-fit Des Plaines Viking roof with styrene cement, and proceeded to attach most of the detail parts in the kit the same way. Below you see the kit at this point, with a coat of Tamiya “Red Brown” on the body but not on the detail parts. I did install a Plano etched brake step with canopy glue. This was a common replacement for wood brake steps.

The other exception was the running board. I chose to use the wood version in the kit, with which the car would have been built, and I attached it with canopy glue. I also installed Kadee #148 (whisker) couplers in Kadee boxes, and InterMountain wheelsets in the kit truck frames. With kit construction complete, I painted the whole model with Tamiya Fine Surface Primer (Red Oxide).

I inherited a couple of sets of CMO decals from Richard Hendrickson, which are unmarked as to maker. Richard owned a huge stash of Champ decals, but I don’t think these are Champ products, going by the typeface used. At any rate, they enabled me to letter the model. With lettering complete, including reweigh and repack stencils, the model looked like this (compare to prototype photo above):

Now came weathering. I wanted to do a coat of weathering that would darken the car, and I used my usual method based on acrylic tube paint washes (see the “Reference pages” linked at the top right corner of this post). Once that was completed, and a protective coat of flat finish in place, I added route cards and chalk marks.

This completes a simple project, to build a CMO box car with a Viking roof and panel door, starting with the Red Caboose kit. It’s going straight into service on my layout!

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Railroad labor agreements

I refer in the title of this post, of course, to printed labor agreements. I know from many conversations with modelers that they often have little awareness of union rules and provisions. Naturally the great majority of those rules have nothing to do with model railroads, but there are exceptions.

I often tell the story, in the present context, that I heard from the individual that was a night operator at Surf on the SP Coast Line in the 1950s. The story was that on a windy and rainy night, he looked outside and noticed that the light in the train order signal had gone out. He called the dispatcher to tell him of the situation, and the dispatcher told him to get out there right away and install a new bulb. He did so, with some difficult getting up the ladder with the gusty wind and rain while holding the new bulb, and thought that was the end of the matter. But the next day, a signal maintainer showed up, smiling, and said, “Thanks! I got eight hours pay for that.”

This illustrates one point of labor agreements: they protect certain jobs, against the possibility that management will use others to do those jobs. They contain a great deal of detail about payment, hours, job assignments, and other features, but do contain some aspects that can apply to model railroad operations.

An example I use on my own Southern Pacific layout is an agreement that was in force at least on the division I model, Coast Division, that road crews were not permitted to do switching at locations where a switch crew was stationed, beyond a single cut and a single joint. In other words, the road crew could cut off the engine from the train, pull ahead out of the way for the local switch crew to work the train, and could then return to the train and couple up. (Otherwise, the road crew would receive extra pay for switching service in addition to road service — and the trainmaster would doubtless call that crew in for a little talk.)

In a recent trip to an NMRA regional convention, I encountered a seller of railroad paper items, not a rare occurrence at these meetings. And he had for sale a couple of really interesting agreements. I show below the cover of an SP Pacific Lines agreement of 1942 with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers. It is a 4 x 6.5-inch book containing 126 pages.

Among the many interesting details contained in this agreement are the variations among rules for passenger vs. freight service, work train service, logging service, helper service, “turnaround” service (an out-and-back trip starting and ending at the same terminal), snow plow service, wrecking service, shop yard service, and extra yard service. In addition, details of overtime pay, terminal switching and delays, light engine moves, and freight “turn” service, called “roustabout,” and many aspects of seniority, hiring, layoffs, and transfers are all specified. 

Just to give a single example, Section 1 of Article 13 in the above agreement calls out all the terminals at which crews were changed, over all of Pacific Lines. Most experienced SP modelers could identify most of these, but I would guess many will not know a few of these. The two sections on the lower part of page 48 convey some of the detail and style of language in agreements like this. (You can enlarge the image by clicking on it, if you wish.)

A second agreement that I purchased is interesting because it has a later date (1953, the year I model), and many agreements in it are quite different than in the booklet shown above: it is for Sunset Lines, i.e. T&NO. It is the same 4 x 6.5-inch size as the book above, and contains 158 pages.

For this agreement, naturally a great many topics are very similar to the Pacific Lines agreement described above. But there are many additional details, some arising from the complexity of the T&NO trackage that had arisen from combining a number of predecessor railroads. To choose a single example, here is the text of Section 27(b), having to do with switching at Medio on the Glidden Subdivision (intermediate between San Antonio and Houston).

“Cars may be added to Glidden Subdivision trains in charge of road crews, at Medio, on the outbound trip. Such work will be performed by yard crews and cars added to train will be placed in the train by the yard crew in station order. When cars are added to train by yard crews on the outbound trip, the road Fireman will be compensated [for delay] on the minute basis, computed from the time the train stops at Medio until the yard crew completes its work with a minimum of one hour.”

Conductor and engineer time books frequently record every delay during a trip, no matter how small, as these delays were added to the agreed time for a specific trip, and could be paid at overtime rates when applicable. Even being held at a red signal would constitute delay, as could delay in getting clear signals to leave a yard. Matters like these are covered in exhaustive detail in these agreements.

I enjoyed seeing some of the details that are found in these documents, as they correspond to many other comments one hears in railroaders’ anecdotes about their time in service. If you’ve never seen one of these agreements, keep your eyes open at swap meets and you may well find one for sale. They are not expensive.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, June 10, 2023

SP diesel fuel tank car: Conclusion

In the preceding post, I had gotten the one-piece handrail formed to fit the car body, and had modified the underframe with some upgrades, essentially representations of the underframe brake rigging. You can consult that post at this link:

As I mentioned at the conclusion of the previous post on this project (see link, above), I was preparing a vertical-staff handbrake. I used a Cal Scale brass brake wheel, soldered to a length of 0.020-inch brass wire, to serve as the new handbrake wheel on this model. It is shown below as installed with canopy glue. The gray material is the Tamiya putty used to fill the hole for the (incorrect) Athearn handbrake parts.

The major task remaining at this point was to attach the handrail, and install the “pipe union” tubing to unite the handrail segments (see Part 2, link in first paragraph above).  I simply placed a dab of canopy glue in each of the Athearn handrail supports on the tank, and carefully fitted my shaped brass-wire handrail to them, then cut the overlapping lengths of handrail wire to fit into the brass tubing used to suggest a pipe union.

Now the paint needed to be touched up. There were several areas where the silver paint had been disturbed or damaged, and all that was touched up first. Then the handrail was brushed with flat black.

Next I wanted to complete the underframe, so it could be attached to the tank. I used Athearn placard holders, even though they are oversize, because a scale placard attached to them looks all right. I installed Kadee #148 (the “scale head” whisker couplers) and InterMountain “semi-scale” wheelsets in the truck  frames. I think it’s essential in a tank car to have the narrower wheel treads, since the wheels are readily visible on a tank car,

The car could now be assembled. At this point, it lacks only weathering and final details like route cards. Here is the distinctive side of an SP tank car, with no ladder or dome platform, or hand grab on the dome. All three are on the other side (see photo above). You may also note that a missing handrail support on this side (compare the first photo in the previous post, link in first paragraph above) has been replaced, with a support harvested from a previous Athearn tank kitbash surplus part.

For weathering, I followed my usual acrylic wash procedures (see “Reference pages” link at the top right of this blog post). I also added route cards and a few chalk marks. 

Below you see the “ladder side” of the car. It’s now headed for the layout, where it can be part of the inbound diesel fuel shipments to the storage tank at my Shumala engine terminal. (see: ).

I have enjoyed the numerous conversions I’ve done with the plain old “Blue Box” Athearn tank car, taking advantage of its evident resemblance to the SP 12,500-gallon tank cars, and correcting details to bring it a lot closer to the prototype. (I posted a detailed description of the entire process several years ago, at:  .) This is just the latest model to be completed.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

John Signor’s new SP book

For even casual fans of the Southern Pacific, John Signor’s books about individual parts of the system are renowned for their historical content, detail on physical facilities, and for many, above all for their superb photographic coverage. And for anyone even remotely serious about SP, John’s books about the railroad are the gold standard. We now have the pleasure of receiving a new one.

His latest SP history has just been published, and it’s about San Francisco. As always, John created the cover painting, too, showing the Daylight arriving in the long shadows of late afternoon, alongside an outbound commute train behind a Train Master. The skyline of the city beyond shows how much San Francisco has changed from that day to this. 

Published by the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society, it’s a hard-cover, 8.5 x 11-inch upright format book, and as with all of John’s books, beautifully designed and well made. It contains 344 pages. It’s available from the SPH&TS, list price $80 (see their web page at: ).

(Incidentally, a shorter version of this review will appear in the Summer 2023 issue of the SPH&TS magazine Trainline, likely in June.)

As John likes to do, he presents the material chronologically in this book, and the chapter titles make clear what dominates each era. Chapter 1 is titled “Pre-Fire, 1860–1906,” while Chapter 2 covers “Disaster April 14, 1906,” and is followed by chapters titled “Expansion, 1907–1930; “Late Steam Era, 1930–1960,” and concludes with “Railroading to Real Estate, 1960–1996.” Obviously not every historical tidbit from a century and a quarter can be included, but the amount of information, much in considerable detail, is stunning.

The book contains over 500 photographs, about 80 in color and over 80 maps, timetables, drawings, and other graphics. And these are the kinds of images that bring the nose down to the page repeatedly.

Since a great deal of the train density into and from the City was the commute traffic, there is considerable coverage of that topic, with many intriguing photos. One I liked is shown below, depicting one stream of the river of employees coming into the City. In the early 1950s, 20 trains arrived at the Third and Townsend depot between 7:15 AM and 8:20 AM, and in this view, nearly every man wears a hat (from the San Francisco Public Library).

It’s hard to envision today, but at one time San Francisco hosted considerable manufacturing business along with lots of regional warehouses, which occasioned quite a bit of rail freight traffic. Most of it was classified and delivered from Mission Bay and Bayshore yards. The view below at Bayshore in 1943, a year when the annual number of freight cars through here was 460,000, shows some interesting wartime traffic (SP photo).

But the sheer volume of information here is just staggering when you dig into it. I’m personally interested in what businesses were rail-served in various eras, and with two fantastic maps, for 1926 and 1959, John has provided an astonishing amount of data. Though it can’t be conveyed here, you can at least get an impression of what’s involved from this double-page spread of the 1926 map, listing and locating over 250 on-line businesses.

What a book! It’s a marvelous story, a fabulous amount of information and photographs, a real treasury of lore about San Francisco and the SP. That’s why I believe it should be of interest to local as well as railroad historians. And it is of course another addition to John’s already massive legacy. Any SP fan will not only want to own this book, but to dig through it repeatedly. I know I’ll wear out my copy! I recommend it unreservedly.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Small project: an old brass SP baggage car

I have in my varied collection of passenger car models a number of the old Ken Kidder brass versions of Harriman cars, especially the head-end cars. But one I never had acquired over the years was the Kidder model of the 40-foot baggage-RPO car. The model verges on “cute,” and the prototype was a rare beast on Pacific Lines (most were built for Atlantic lines), so I always would pass on the purchase when I saw one of these models for sale.

But eventually, as most of us have experienced a few times, the purchasing opportunity coincided with a “hey, why not” impulse, and I bought one. Listed at $60, I asked the seller if he’d take less and he said “sure, how about $30?” So now I was the proud owner. What next? I always start with the history, and of course it’s in Chapter 1 of Volume 3 of the SPH&TS series Southern Pacific Passenger Cars, “Head End Equipment” (Pasadena, 2007).

The prototype cars, built to provide a 40-foot postal apartment during 1910–1911, later became obsolete as the Post Office Department standardized on 15-, 30- or 60-foot apartments in postal cars. There were originally 6 cars of Class 40-P-1 (3 for SP, 3 for UP), built in 1910. The SP cars soon became postal-storage cars before all going to SP de Mexico around World War I. 

In 1911, five more cars were built, all for Atlantic Lines; they were rebuilt by T&NO in 1929 to baggage-postal cars with 15-foot postal apartments. A larger baggage door replaced the postal door in one end. By World War II they were surplus to requirements on T&NO, and two were transferred to SP in June 1943, rebuilt as baggage-express cars by removing the postal equipment, and renumbered 6008 and 6009. These are the cars modeled by Kidder.

Below is a photo of SP 6008 at Oakland about 1950 (E.R. Mohr photo, Jeff Cauthen collection). You can see beneath the car, and the large tank formerly present to supply illumination gas is absent, so by this time the car was electrically lighted.

Before going on, I want to simply show the end of the original Kidder box, not because of its description of the model, because the model actually isn’t an RPO, but the original price. This may be informative for those who don’t grasp how much inflation we’ve experienced over the span of decades since this model was produced.

My mode was quite tarnished, understandable since it’s at least 50 years old, and had a couple of loose solder joints. (More on those in a moment.) But all the original Kidder parts were there. The Kidder roof curvature is well known to be a little too small, but not a major point for a model like this one.

My first action with a model as tarnished as this is to use some brass polish on it. It won’t restore the original surface, but does remove a great deal of the tarnish. I use a product my wife swears by, “Red Bear,” intended for polishing both copper and brass. Produced in Norway, I think it’s less potent than in previous years, but it sure works.

It was now time to make a couple of repairs to the model. One of the doors had come partly un-soldered, another one was crooked, and at one end, both the corner joint and the roof-to-end joint were partly open. I repaired some of these problems with solder, though the model interior was just as tarnished as the exterior had been, making soldering difficult. Others were fixed with canopy glue.

I was now ready to apply primer. I used the excellent Tamiya Fine Surface Primer (white in color), which I’ve found to adhere well to both metal and plastic when they’re clean, and a fine first coat under final color. For the body color, I chose the P-B-L Star Brand “SP/UP/D&RGW Dark Olive,” STR-29, and airbrushed the sides and ends (the roof will be dark gray to black —thus no need to mask or ensure even color on the roof at this point).

With these steps, the project was well underway. Some issues still to be solved are couplers and diaphragms, as well as completing the paint and lettering. I will continue my description in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Railway Modellers Meet

Last week, I attended the annual “Railway Modellers Meet” of the 7th Division of Pacific Northwest Region, NMRA, in Vancouver, British Columbia, thus called “RMMBC” for short. I had been invited to give the Keynote Talk for the meeting (see my post about some of the contents: ), which is mainly why I went, and I also gave a clinic in the clinic program.

It was a pleasant weekend in Vancouver, a beautiful city, and the meeting was quite a good one. The organizing committee, chaired by long-time friend Rene Gourley, did an excellent job of arrangements at the Simon Fraser University campus. It included two rooms of model displays, a manufacturers’ display room, two nice auditoriums for talks, and operating sessions at home layouts on the Friday afternoon and Saturday evening. Even their event graphics were well done!

I operated on Friday at Mike Chandler’s excellent layout, where I had operated before. His freelance layout is a delight to operate, as everything looks great and operates even better. My job this time was yardmaster at Java Yard, which you see below on the right. In the distance is Mike, behind the roundhouse, where he acted as hostler, and to his left, Ken Martin, reading his orders before leaving town with a train. Switch controls are on the fascia below.

Back at the university, I enjoyed seeing some very nice models in the display room. One I especially liked was a group of Pacific Great Eastern HO scale locomotives in the orange and green scheme they had in the early 1950s. One is shown below, PGE 561, an Alco (Montreal Locomotive Works) RSC-2, from Kato, painted by the owner, David Morgan and lettered with Black Cat decals (pronounced “dekkles” in Canada, as in England). Nice paint job, and nice subtle weathering, too.

There were several quite good clinics. One I enjoyed was by Seattle friend Burr Stewart, an interesting and stimulating talk about how to make layout videos, and various ways to post and share them. That’s Burr underneath the truly large screen used for the talks (totally in a good way!).

Saturday night I was lucky enough to operate at Scott Calvert’s outstanding Canadian Pacific Boundary Subdivision layout, centered on Nelson, British Columbia and its large yard. I have switched the west end of the yard in previous sessions, and this time drew the east end. Here is a view from my operating area. This yard keeps two switchers quite busy.

This was really a nice meeting, for beyond what might be expected from what was essentially a division meet. I certainly found lots of interesting and enjoyable aspects of it. I often advocate for attending NMRA regional conventions, but there are smaller events that are a lot of fun too. This certainly was one.

Tony Thompson