Tuesday, April 30, 2024

A really old Silver Streak kit

At the Pacific Coast Region (NMRA) convention last weekend, I picked up a really old Silver Streak car kit. I suspect it predates 1953, since lists of Silver Streak freight car models for that and all subsequent years don’t contain it. (My source for this kind of info is, as usual, the HOSeeker website, at: https://hoseeker.net/truscalesilverstreak.html .)

Supporting that idea of kit age is the car kit box, black with silver decoration. Note below, that on the top of the box is shown what was probably Silver Streak’s best-known and certainly best-selling model, the Hart convertible gondola. At this time, the company name was “Pacific HO,” thus the PHO reporting marks on the gondola on the box.

This is the earliest box used by Silver Streak. The same company made Tru-Scale roadbed, which became a big enough seller that the company changed its name from Pacific HO to Tru-Scale, and also changed the box for car kits to a greenish color. 

Eventually the original company went out of business, and for a time Walthers sold the car kits, using a similar box but in yellow, and with the Walthers name replacing that of Tru-Scale.

The car that I acquired had been partly assembled, with the basic wooden body box very nicely built, the underframe mostly completed except for couplers, and the printed sides attached. As mentioned, I have not found any Silver Streak product list that shows this URTX scheme, confirming the early date. It’s also interesting that the model is 40 scale feet long. Many early Silver Streak models were about 10 percent oversize, but not this one.

There were essentially all the needed parts still in the kit box. The photo below shows them (you can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish). The end and roof “wood” sheathing is at bottom, and the rather wide running board at left.Next to the running board at the top are the dummy couplers (their boxes are near the end parts), and next to the couplers are the ice hatches. Note that these have the long boards to support hatch rests, but no ice hatch platforms, as was usual on wood roofs. I have not found other Silver Streak reefer kits with wood roofs and such ice hatches.

Also shown above are the cast ladders at top right, relatively low profile even compared to cast-on ladders; these will be replaced. At top center are two shapes of staples, intended as sill steps and grab irons, which will also be replaced. Below the ice hatches are the door hardware parts, coupler boxes, and handbrake parts, the latter being replaceable.

My kit box didn’t contain any instructions. Instructions for later Silver Streak refrigerator car models are available on the HOSeeker website, as I show below, but obviously a different car is shown in this document, representing a metal instead of wood roof, and with ice hatch platforms. I will use these directions to the extent that they apply.

I want to proceed to complete this model, using the major kit parts, but upgrading a number of the minor parts such as grab irons and ladders, and of course couplers. I also want to examine what I can find about the prototype for this car (in the 1950s, it was not yet the practice to decorate models for prototypes that never had that body type). I will describe those processes in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, April 27, 2024

What makes a good layout description?

At the recent ProRail event, I chatted with several experienced model railroad layout operators, and this subject came up: what makes a good layout description? (Meaning, of course, a description of one you haven’t been to before; or in the other direction, what you should try to describe for first-time visitors to your layout.) For some background comments on ProRail, see this post: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2024/04/prorail-2024.html .

We all agreed that the quality and helpfulness of layout descriptions vary widely. Sometimes you are overwhelmed with details of what is on the layout, or are given multiple pages of information about how operations work on that layout. Often it’s difficult to sort through all the detail when you’ve never seen the layout.

Sometimes you receive something like this: “I won’t describe the layout itself, because it was well covered in Great Model Railroads in 2004.” Not too many of us keep publications that far back; and even if we do, we may be reading the layout description on the airplane while traveling to the operating weekend where we will operate on that layout. Needless to say, the reference to GMR is not helpful in that situation.

Now I’m not criticizing anyone whose layout has been in GMR or any other publication; in fact, mentioning that kind of coverage demonstrates that the layout is at least visually quite good. So by all means, such a reference ought to be in a layout description, but not as a substitute for actually describing the layout. 

Photographs can be helpful, though rarely a major part of the layout descriptions one receives. In particular, a panoramic photo of a layout may show a great deal of what the layout is like, though such views aren’t commonly seen. Below is a fine example, the late Jack Parker’s Northern Pacific layout, published as a double-page spread in GMR for 1995.

Even photos of individual scenes on a layout may make you think, “Wow, I’d love to operate there.” By and large, photos of that type are as uncommon as panoramas. To illustrate, I’ll show a photo I took at John Breau’s outstanding layout in Kansas City, showing the local freight I operated, having just completed switching in the town of Dutton, Montana.

A much more familiar example is the superb Tehachapi layout of the La Mesa Club in San Diego. This scene at Caliente captures much of the appeal (and size) of this layout.

Some of this problem is that the magazines we all read are very focused on visual quality, especially close-ups of detailed scenes. It isn’t easy to portray operational qualities in a magazine, and often an article doesn’t even try. That’s why a number of excellently-operating layouts would never be shown in a magazine. But beyond photos, what else conveys the information you want?

We soon agreed, in our conversation, that the basics for a visiting operator include era modeled, prototype railroad if any, and location in the world (if you model Santa Fe, is it in Chicago? Topeka? Raton Pass? San Bernardino? those would be quite different layouts). Of course, scale makes a difference, and so does operating scheme (CTC? Timetable and Train Order? Track Warrants? just run and have fun?) and, to some extent, DCC system (Digi-trax, NCE, Easy DCC, etc.).

How about track plans? Some of us really liked to study a track plan in advance, others felt that a schematic of the track plan was in some ways better, because it shows you how the layout will work. That isn’t always obvious in a track plan. It can also be informative to mention what the layout emphasizes: small farm communities on a branch line, high-speed mainline passenger trains, large classification yards, dense urban switching, and so on.

Layout size matters too. A frequent way of conveying that is to state the square footage of the layout. That of course does convey size, but shape is important too. Is it long and narrow? square? L-shaped? or something else? Knowing shape and dimensions (which a track plan would include), and an operating schematic, does give you a pretty good idea of what the physical layout is like.

Most of us felt that descriptions of the operating scheme can be fairly brief for an experienced visitor. Pages and pages of procedures and copies of multiple forms that are used aren’t essential. I have occasionally gone back after a session on a layout which provided all that paperwork in advance, and found I could understand it far better in retrospect than beforehand.

A couple of people mentioned a common problem, one I’ve been guilty of myself, providing a layout description that is the layout owner’s idea of what the layout is, rather than trying to see it from the perspective of a first-time visitor, and what might be helpful to explain (and what you needn’t explain because it’s fairly obvious). I try to avoid this problem, but probably haven’t quite succeeded.

I have, in a way, written two layout descriptions. One is a description of layout history and background, for visitors at, for example, open houses. A version of it is available on Google Drive (you can find the text at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1YUu3bOCnFQgch43CKynJHVgYOLckQZ4H/view?usp=sharing ). I can see some minor modifications that should be made.

My other layout description is really an introduction to how the layout is operated, not a guide for a visitor, and is distributed before operating sessions. Here’s a link to the current version, also on Google Drive: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pz7aKNNZatON-DP22fU42uV0HGXjllSa/view?usp=sharing . How did I do?

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

ProRail 2024

The Prototype Railroad Operating group (ProRail) meeting this year was in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was last here in 2015. I was among the layout hosts this time, and have more to say about that below. As background, this annual event began 52 years ago in Chicago, followed the next year with one in Kansas City, and those two locations hosted their respective 50th anniversaries in 2022 and 2023. For background, please visit: http://www.prorail.org/ .

One of the ProRail traditions I enjoy is attending a baseball game on the Thursday before the event begins. This is often a major-league game, but minor-league ballparks are fun too. This time, naturally, we went to see the San Francisco Giants, playing the Arizona Diamondbacks. We had nice seats in the boxes on the first-base side. Here’s a view in the top of the fourth inning.

I was scheduled to host two operating sessions which, as it happened, were my 90th and 91st on the present version of the layout. I was flattered to see the people who had chosen my layout as one of their operating options, as several of them are people I have looked up to for years. Naturally I put in a lot of hours making the layout the best it could be, despite some hiccups I was aware of (more about that in a moment).

The Friday operating crew was Doug Harding, Paul De Luca, Bob Willer and Rene´ LaVoise, all Midwesterners. After the usual briefing, perhaps enlarged a bit as none of them had operated here before, we settled into the session. As you can see below, Bob (at left) and Paul first worked at Shumala, before we broke for lunch, with Bob as engineer here. I’ve visited both their layouts and enjoyed the operating sessions on both.

On the other side of the layout, Rene´ (at left) and Doug were working Ballard, though in the view below, Doug was snapping a few photos. I was at Doug’s layout for the first time last year, though I’ve known him for what seems like a lot of years.

Everything went fairly smoothly (we did lose a couple of coupler springs), except in the trouble area of trackwork about which I’ve been posting (see the most recent at: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2024/04/trackwork-wars-part-13.html ). 

Before the first session, I had gone over this track with a fine-toothed comb, and found that the curved switch was now distinctly tight in gauge when thrown one of the two ways. I know it wasn’t that way before installation, because I checked it carefully first (a habit I developed in the days when brand-new Shinohara switches were not infrequently out of gauge). 

During the sessions, the engine was run really slowly over it, and it mostly ran okay, but I hated it not being right. I will just have to get back in there again and try to figure out how to correct it.

The second session again had a distinguished operating crew, Jerry Dziedzic and Bob Hanmer, joined by Mikc Chandler and John Walter from  Vancouver, BC. Again, people I’ve know and operated with for years. The crew starting out on the Shumala side of the layout comprised John (at left) and Mike. John was the conductor here, and is holding some waybills.

Meanwhile, at Ballard, Bob (at left) and Jerry were at work. I’m not sure what Jerry was doing in this photo, but I remember that both he and Bob were amused about something. Maybe a switching mistake? Here again, the photos were taken before the lunch break. The weather was nice enough that we ate outside on our patio.

In addition to all of the above, our local committee hosted a dinner for visitors and layout hosts together, another chance to meet or reunite with this community, and a few friends even came by my layout in the evening to see it, if they hadn’t gotten it as an assignment. I mention this as emphasis for the significance of the social side of the operating hobby.

Altogether, this ProRail was really fun, to have long-time acquaintances and friends operate my layout, and of course a chance to renew friendships and make new ones. To me, that’s a big payoff from operating sessions. I know some people find them stressful and a little too challenging, but I find them fun, both the model railroading and the people connections.

Tony Thompson

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Waybills, Part 114: managing the “fleet”

It’s been awhile since I commented on a waybills topic, and preparing for operating sessions this month (four in all) has reminded me of some aspects I haven’t discussed at all recently. (To find previous posts in this series, the easiest way is to use “waybills, part” as the search term in the search box at right; they will mostly come up in chronological order.) For most purposes, the best overview or guide to the first 100 posts on the topic is here: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2022/11/waybills-part-100-guide.html .

Part of what I want to discuss in the present post is management of the entirety of the waybill collection used on my layout, as it now is. Some of what I will touch on has been presented in basic form in an earlier post (see it at: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2017/03/waybills-part-58-more-on-managing-bills.html ), and I want to add to that background.

My basic system is to file waybills by industry, and the waybills for that industry are filed by reporting mark. Within each reporting mark, they are filed by car number. This makes it quite easy to select waybills to use for a particular industry in an upcoming operating session, or to find a particular car’s waybill for that industry. 

My waybills are enclosed in baseball-card collectors’ clear plastic sleeves, and I use a card-collectors’ storage box for the waybills between sessions. It’s shown below. The magenta dividers indicate towns on the layout.

In the case that I want to use a particular freight car in an upcoming session, and need to know what industries’ waybills may have been made for it, I turn to my “pairs list,” a multi-page document listing all shipper-consignee pairs that exist (for background, see: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2012/02/waybills-17-pairs-list.html ). Every new waybill is added to this list. And since it is an digital list, it is readily searchable for any car number.

In a decade of operating the layout in its present form, and some 90 sessions in total, the system has really worked well. It is simple and convenient to manage waybills and thus car movements, and I have been happy with the relative realism of the paperwork.

But the perhaps more interesting aspect I want to discuss stems from a question I was asked, after presenting a clinic about my waybill system. The question was, “How many waybills do you make for each operating session?”

I responded by saying, in effect, “This is really two questions. The first is, and I think what you meant is,  ‘how many waybills do I have to make for each session,’ but I think there is implied a second question, ‘how many waybills do I actually make for a session?’ ” Then I went on to say the following.

The number I have to make is really zero. I have a substantial number of waybills, more than one for many of my cars, but at least one waybill for every car in the fleet. In addition, I have a number of “overlay” or half-bills, which allow multiple cars to have a particular load. (For a description of that idea, see this post: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2015/06/waybills-part-41-overlay-bills.html ; and if you are interested in that topic, using “overlay bills’ as a search term in the search box at upper right of this post will show you some additional commentary, such as this one: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2022/09/waybills-part-99-more-on-overlay-bills.html .) So it is only if a new car has been added to the fleet, that I have to make a new waybill.

But in fact, I often do make new waybills before an operating session. Why would that be, given that I don’t really have to do so? One reason is that I discover faults in waybills that may have been made years ago. Sometimes it’s merely a typo, which I want to fix. Here’s an embarrassing one: I got the car number wrong. (The one on the left is correct.) 

Sometimes I now have additional information about a purported shipper or destination, or about car routing (usually from a railroad’s Shipper Guide; see: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2024/01/another-excellent-shippers-guide.html ). Sometimes I failed to include the actual destination, such as the team track or house track. Here again, the left-hand bill is correct; I noted the error by hand, on the right-hand one.

As I have developed more and more ways to represent rubber stamps on waybills, I have replaced the old one with a new, stamped one. In the case shown below, it’s a weight agreement stamp, added to one on the left.

And sometimes I am correcting state designations. In the early days of making waybills, I just used the conventional two-letter abbreviations, which in fact were introduced by the U.S. Postal Service in late 1963. But I model 1953, when the “traditional” state abbreviations were in use (a listing of both sets of abbreviations is available at: https://about.usps.com/who/profile/history/pdf/state-abbreviations.pdf ). I have often replaced an existing waybill with post-1963 state abbreviations on it, with the older style abbreviation (see any of the waybills above for examples).

So in an ongoing process, I do correct or improve older waybills, and as these come to light for particular sessions, I make new, correct waybills. I suppose I could go through the entire box (see photo at top of this post) and find all the replaceable ones, but that has never risen to a level of importance that I actually did that. I usually just fix ones I want to use. It’s all part of how I manage the (waybill) fleet.

Tony Thompson

Thursday, April 18, 2024

My latest column in MRH

As a regular columnist in Model Railroad Hobbyist (the “Getting Real” series of columns by several writers who take turns), my latest column is now appearing, the 27th I’ve written for this publication. It’s about “Modeling Perishable Shipping,” emphasizing the layout details that reflect handling of perishables, and also a little about operations. It’s in the “Running Extra” part of the April 2024 issue.

There are two main aspects I am trying to model (and that I described in the article). One, the loading of the cars (what can be seen outside the car), and two, ice refrigeration, both pre-icing (defined in the Protective Perishable Services tariff as filling the ice bunkers of an empty car before spotting for loading) and initial icing (again, tariff language for icing a loaded car before departure, at the nearest ice deck to the loading point).

For the loading part, we are limited in HO scale to what we can suggest from outside the car. On the loading docks of my packing houses, I often have a stack of shipping crates visible, as in the photo below at the Phelan & Taylor Produce Co. dock on my layout in East Shumala. The suggestion is that these crates are ready to load.

In addition, I spent a little space in the article describing the use of field boxes, in which harvest is brought to the packing house. A few of these are shown at right in the photo above. This is the easiest way we can depict the harvested perishables. 

Icing, of course, is a familiar operating possibility on model railroading. Most of us cannot begin to model a prototype-size mainline icing station. These ice decks were often 80 to 100 cars long. If I recall, the largest model ice deck I’ve seen is at the La Mesa Club’s Tehachapi layout in San Diego, and it’s about 30 cars long. In HO scale, that is really big: 30 car lengths, at nominally 40 feet per car, is 1200 scale feet, or nearly 14 actual feet.

I have modeled a far smaller facility, typical of small towns, only a two-car deck, and located at a private ice company. Such companies usually did not have the capacity to freeze 300-pound ice blocks for reefer icing, and accordingly the reefer ice was shipped in. (That made it what PFE called an ITP, an Ice Transfer Plant.) Below I show an Ice Service reefer about to be spotted at the loading door in the ice building (at right). Note that its ice hatches have been blanked off; the ice bunkers have been removed for more loading space.

Meanwhile, on the deck, I’ve modeling the workmen using the two typical ice-handling tools. Below, the man at left holds a “bident,” a two-pronged fork used to chop the ice into smaller pieces, and the man at right holds a “pickaroon,” with a point for pushing ice blocks, and a hook for pulling them toward you. Note that the ice is not clear. Modelers who have clear ice on their ice decks need to sand it so it is at most translucent, which is how ice on real ice decks looked.

The photo above is from an earlier period, before I added the metal sliding tray that the workmen used to slide ice out along the deck, and also added some smaller ice chunks. In the photo below, you see open ice hatches, with the plugs on the underside of each hatch cover.

Lastly, I touched on the issue (mentioned above) of pre-icing and initial icing. A couple of the packing houses on my layout don’t have their own pre-cooling capability, and must receive pre-iced empties (all the other houses, since they do pre-cool their produce, receive un-iced empties). 

This can be indicated in a waybill, as you see below, in the line just above the cargo description. The mention of Section 2 under “CPS” (Carrier Protective Service) means “standard refrigeration,” that is, ice in the bunkers.

My purpose in this particular MRH article was to emphasize how one can model perishable shipping, from harvest and loading, to icing, to long-range car movement. Hopefully I provided a few insights that might help modelers decide what they want to include, or can include, and how to model it.

Tony Thompson

Monday, April 15, 2024

Trackwork wars, Part 13

I'm pretty much done with the previous challenges described in this series, but one more interesting one did surface during my last operating session. There’s an old saying, that using a layout inevitably breaks things. Well, this was another demonstration of that adage. (For previous series posts, see for example: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2024/04/trackwork-wars-part-12.html ). I’ll describe the issue because it was not a simple problem.

The interesting aspect of this particular problem is that it involves several different things. First, it’s a really old switch, dating back at least 40 years on the layout. (It’s one of the Russ Simpson “Scale Model Railroad Trackwork” No. 5 switches, wonderful components, and if I had managed to buy more of them, I would have used them throughout the layout. The point rails are all in one piece, from frog to throw bar.) 

Second point, I had had problems years ago with electrical performance of this particular switch, which relies on the contact between point rails and stock rails. I had solved this many years ago, by adding the contacts of a micro-switch under the layout with an operating wire up through the layout and into the hole in the center of the throw bar. Movement of the points moves the wire, which moves the contacts to the appropriate connection.

In the photo below, the switch point rails can be seen to be joined by a brass strip, to which they are soldered. In the center is a rivet which attached the brass strip to a plastic throw bar underneath everything. Or there was. It broke at the rivet, and the two pieces are lying parallel to the track, just above the points. The throw bar in turn has a hole at one end (at left in the view below), which was the connection to the (un-mounted) Bitter Creek ground throw which is at upper photo center.

My first shot at fixing this was to try and glue the left half of the throw bar (as you see it above, at left), back into place under the brass connector strip. This worked, but didn’t survive many throws. It was clear I needed to make an entire new throw bar.

I chose some Evergreen scale 6 x 10-inch styrene strip, and cut a length equal to the original throw bar. I then rounded the corners and drilled two holes, about no. 55, one in the center (to accommodate the wire activating the micro-switch contacts below the layout) and one near the end, for the ground throw. And I painted it black.

It wasn’t easy to slip the new throw bar under the switch points and over the center wire, but I got that done. There was a slight bend in the frame of the Bitter Creek throw, so I temporarily replaced it with a Caboose Industries throw, just to get it back in service.

This works well enough, and for now will remain this way. I was glad to be able to keep the successful electrical arrangement on this switch, while replacing the throw rod. The test will come, of course, when visitors operate through this switch, as they will repeatedly for almost any switching task at Shumala. Fingers crossed.

Tony Thompson

Friday, April 12, 2024

Adding California condors to the layout

This may seem a rather exotic idea. But I’m doing it. Probably many readers have seen layouts with kites in the air, or airplanes; I can remember visiting a layout with a blimp in the air. Well, why not birds? Of course, nearly all bird species are quite tiny in HO scale. But the California condor, with a wingspan of up to 10 feet (the largest in North America) is a potential exception. As explained below, I decided to give it a try.

These birds are mostly black, but like most vulture species, have a bare head. They also have elongated white patches on the underside of the wings. Below you see a California condor in Zion National Park (Phil Armitage public domain photo, 2007), with tracking devices visible on both wings. 

The California condor, as many readers may know, was on the verge of extinction, with only 22 birds alive in the wild, when conservation efforts began in 1987. Capturing wild birds for breeding, nurturing of chicks, added protection for birds released into the wild, and thorough monitoring of health of the population in the wild, has been a notable success. 

Today there are estimated to be 558 of these birds in the wild, and in addition to their last original range in the coastal mountains of California, they now are successfully ranging and breeding in many other areas, including the high Sierra, southern Utah and northern Arizona, and both Big Sur and Pinnacles National Park in California. Introduction of condors has recently been accomplished in Redwood National Park in northern California, and in northern Mexico. For more, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_condor#Description .

The Miniprints offerings (see their line at: https://www.miniprints.com/shop-birds/ ) include a California condor in their extensive line of 3D-printed birds and animals in HO scale. The origin of this is interesting. My friend Seth Neumann contacted Bernard Hallen at Miniprints and asked if he could make a condor. What he apparently did was scale up a vulture, and of course condors are in the vulture family, so these are certainly close enough in HO scale. 

Seth bought some, painted them, and was kind enough to give me two pair. There are two standing birds and two in flight (shown below both from above, with all-black wings, and from below, like the prototype photo above). The model wing span is about 1.25 inches, which translates to about 9 feet in HO scale, certainly reasonable.

So how would these bird models be installed on a layout? They are soaring birds, so should be seen in a hilly area, and obviously the flying ones have to be in the air. For the standing birds, I luckily have a perfect rock outcrop above my layout town of Ballard, so one of them fits nicely there.

The thought of the condor, brooding above the town, inevitably brings to mind one of the great personalities that Charlie Brown’s dog, Snoopy, assumed: the “fierce vulture” in a tree. Not sure the condor looks a great deal like Charles Schulz's drawing (internet image).

The flying condor I decided to attach to a wire, allowing it to appear to be actually “in the air” above the hillside. I used 0.015-inch brass wire. I first tried it out unpainted, attaching it to the underside of the flying condor with canopy glue, and sticking the wire into the hillside above Ballard. You can readily see the wire in the photo below, because it is still shiny brass color.

I then spray-painted the wire medium gray, which seemed like a sufficiently neutral color to make it disappear. And it does, from most angles. In fact, the condor is now a little hard to photograph so that the wire shows. After trying several different perspectives, I did come up with one where the wire is visible. But I will repeat that viewing from the layout aisle, it’s pretty hard to see the wire.

This was a fun addition to the layout, and of course full credit to Seth Neumann for both the idea and the models. But now that they’re available from Miniprints, anyone can do the same. I’m glad to do something to honor the return of the California condor to the wild, even in HO scale.

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Operating sessions 88 and 89

This past weekend I hosted two operating sessions on my layout, which happen to have been nos. 88 and 89 on the layout in its present form. They were especially important to me because of the work I have been doing to correct past problems with trackwork (as described, for example, in this post: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2024/04/trackwork-wars-part-12.html ). I wanted to give the new track a full workout. 

Of course, an important preliminary job was to clean up the work area (shown in the post just linked) and restore structures, etc. to their rightful places. And you may note that the new switches are still not ballasted, until I get all the gremlins out of the trackwork.

The first day’s session was manned by Steve Van Meter, Lisa Gorrell, John Rodgers, and Seth Neumann. As crews almost always do, they elected to do half the session on one side of the layout, then switch over and do the second half on the other side from where they started. The photo below shows Lisa (at left) and Seth hard at work in Ballard, with Seth acting as conductor at this point. He’s probably identifying where he wants the engine next.

At the same time, the photo below shows Steve (at left) and John getting through the tasks at Shumala, mostly yard work here at the beginning of the session. It looks like Steve is conducting, since he is holding the paperwork. The clock on the wall shows layout time, not rest-of-the-world time, though it is a 1:1 clock; this permits us to operate in a specific segment of the prototype Southern Pacific timetable for the Guadalupe Subdivision of Coast Division.

Although a couple of layout elements needed repair during the session (switch points coming un-soldered, etc.), generally things worked all right. Here is a photo of the Santa Rosalia Local, ready to return to Shumala with the cars it has picked up during its run.

I should mention one other “feature” of the operating session, which I will explain, since the background is known to a very small number of people. Years ago at the annual Cocoa Beach meeting (for a few words about this year’s meeting, see: http://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2024/01/cocoa-beach-2024.html ), several of the early arriving attendees would repair to Mike Brock’s house and operate on his very nice Sherman Hill UP layout. Some years back, Bill Schneider (an O&W modeler) slipped an O&W coal hopper under the coal dock on the layout, understandably to Mike’s mystification and the great amusement of everyone else. The hopper remained there ever since. 

This year, with Mike having passed away last year, some of us were offered the chance to receive a freight car from Mike’s layout. I immediately seized the O&W hopper, and I intend it to surface from time to time on my layout, as a kind of memory of Mike’s layout. Bill knows I have the car, and seemed to feel it was going to a good home. Here is how it looked this weekend, with missing waybill as usual:

All in all, a pretty good session. Several things I wanted to ensure would work well for the upcoming ProRail event did work well. The new trackwork unfortunately is still not completely right, though better than it was. I will continue refining it. 

And I keep reminding myself of my friend Paul Weiss’s important observation (which he named “Host Flaw Hysteria”): the host feels like 5 percent of the layout misbehaving ruins the entire session, while the visitors realize that 95 percent worked fine, and pretty much overlook that 5 percent. May it remain true.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Trackwork Wars, Part 12

My efforts to correct a pair of troublesome switches near the outer end of my Santa Rosalia Branch layout are continuing. In the previous post on this topic, I showed the beginnings of replacement, after the offending switches had been removed and discarded. (That post can be viewed at this link: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2024/04/trackwork-wars-part-11.html .) An important issue unresolved at the end of that post was the realignment of the MP1 switch machines that power these two switches.

The decision I made was to move both MP1s, but not very far. This can be best illustrated with an overhead photo, showing an intermediate step. In the photo below, the MP1 at left has been shifted leftwards, and the trench for its operating rod enlarged to the left. That permitted the MP1 at right to be moved leftwards also, and on the premise that it will operate all right at an angle to the track’s perpendicular, a new trench was cut. The old trench is the empty one at the right.

Next came fitting the curved switch that goes to the right of the photo above. This had complications, since it was too long at the throwbar end, and too short at the far end. I fixed the latter with a couple of short segments of rail (a few millimeters long), soldered into long rail joiners.

I then proceeded to fit the track together. Though this was a little demanding, given that the area I was working in is among the least conveniently accessible on the layout, I did get everything lined up and assembled. Here you see it all, prior of course to detailed testing of the work and verification that it would operate okay. Both MP1 switch machines are connected too.

I began testing with a long-wheelbase Consolidation steam locomotive, just to see what is likely to be the worst case. Loco SP 2829 worked fairly well over this new track, but inconsistently seemed to find areas of less than perfect gauge. I have continued work to try and find (and correct) these little bugs, and have steadily found and fixed a number, but am sure more needs to be done.

So it’s clear that this new pair of switches is not exactly ready for “prime time,” as we say, but probably will be all right for my upcoming operating session. To be safe, I’ll probably use a 4-axle diesel switcher on the local, just to give a little margin for remaining problems.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Trackwork wars, Part 11

When last we visited this topic, the subject was the need to replace a pair of switches on my layout that had caused derailments and other trouble many times, over numerous operating sessions. Sometimes severely, sometimes not, but definitely trouble. I showed the location after removal of one of the switches (see that post at: https://modelingthesp.blogspot.com/2024/03/trackwork-wars-part-10.html ). 

I next completed removal of the two switches by taking out the curved one at the right of the photos I have been showing in prior posts. Here is the area with both of the offenders removed. At the top of the photo below is the new Walthers curved switch that will be installed.

After some careful fitting, a replacement No. 6 switch was placed at the left of the scene shown above. Rails were painted a kind of “Roof Brown” color, and aligned with the trackage at upper left (two tracks: one is the lead to the Jupiter Pump & Compressor plant, the other is the main track in Ballard). Testing of the new switch seemed to work well, though of course locomotives could only be run onto the new switch at this point, not completely through it and beyond. Here I was checking level.

With an operating session coming up, it occurred to me to carefully test other switches on the layout which have been problematic in the past. Almost immediately I found that one of the point rails at the east end of the Ballard double main had come un-soldered. This happened once before during an operating session, so I was glad to find it now, and re-solder. Here is how it looked when it had just failed.

My next project was to fit the second replacement switch into the area being worked. As I was starting this, I realized what a  different scene was being created by the work tools and materials, compared to the layout scene that usually exists here.

The new switch was readily fitted into the existing track alignment, but a new problem arose: the throw bar on this switch is located differently that was the case for the previous switch, and not even close — instead, it’s around three-fourths of an inch away. And what’s worse, it’s different in the direction that is closer to the adjoining switch, meaning the two MP1 switch machines can’t remain in their present locations.

I’ve shown all this below, with a large red arrow aligned with the current location of the throw bar of the switch that was previously located to the right. You can readily see, not only that this location isn’t at all close to the throw bar of the new switch, but equally seriously, that the new bar location would practically touch the switch machine to the left.

Obviously, I have to dig up the actuating rod that is buried at right, as it no longer connects to anything. One possibility then is to simply rotate the machine at right somewhat clockwise, and then operate a connecting rod at an angle to the track, instead of perpendicular.  It might also be practical to move or rotate the MP1 at left. Rotating it 180 degrees would probably be easiest. Then the one at right could be relocated so as to operate perpendicular to the track. Moving both switch machines isn’t attractive but might prove necessary. More on all this later, when progress has been made.

Tony Thompson