Sunday, October 1, 2023

Electrical wars, Part 21

This particular post in the series isn’t really one of my classic confrontations with an electrical failure on the layout, but more of the maintenance that needs to be done on the electrical front. (If interested, you can easily find the past members of this series by using “electrical wars” as the search term in the search box at right.) Still, it’s definitely electrical, so I’ll include it.

In preparing for an operating session, I routinely clean all track, then operate locomotives through all switches. Inevitably there are one or more switches for which the point rails aren’t making adequate contact with the stock rails. Of course, the obvious remedy is to clean the inside of the stock rails and the outside of the point rails in the areas where they contact.

In the photo above, taken at the switch into the industrial spurs at East Shumala on my layout, I am using an abrasive stick to clean the areas mentioned. This is just an ordinary emery board, as you see below; as I wear out and dirty the ends, I cut them off to bring fresh abrasive to the end. Over time, of course, the board gets shorter and shorter.

Often this kind of cleaning is sufficient to take care of the problem. But sometimes, as in the case of the switch I am showing here, it did not. In that case, it’s essential to check what’s going on, using a multi-meter. With that tool, I was able to isolate the problem quickly.

What I found was that the rail connection leading into the switch was not conducting consistently. (Yes, this was one of those super-annoying intermittent faults.) It was the rail nearest the camera in the view above. A little work with moving the rail joiner restored consistent conduction. Had that not worked, I would have soldered a jumper wire across the joint. 

Then, of course, the ultimate testing tool is a locomotive. Meters can mislead,  but not locomotives. (Of course, I am just talking electrical here. Locomotives can have faults of their own, like dirty wheels, but if the locomotive is running well, it’s the final test of track.) So after any work like this on a switch, I run a locomotive back and forth at different speeds to verify that the problem is fixed.

With this work, I restored dependable electrical behavior in this switch, needed for an upcoming operating session. As it turned out, this electrical problem, though quite real, was not the entire issue with this switch, but dealing with the remaining problems, which weren’t electrical, will be the subject of a separate post.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Modeling SP passenger cars, Part 17

In the present post I continue progress on the two Lark sleeping cars I’ve been working on, described in four previous posts. (The immediate prior one is here: .) At this point, the cars had been given their two-tone gray paint scheme, though without the needed separation stripes, and still needed to be lettered. The background on lettering and numbering for these car is presented in the post just cited.

The stripes above and below the window band on these cars were 2 inches wide after the black edging was discontinued, and the color was the Southern Pacific “Lettering Gray,” a light gray. I have tried applying striping like this using decal stripes, and found it quite a wrestle to get them straight and in position. The alternative is to mask and spray. I found this easier than it sounds; one can pull the tape straight with a little tension, and either measure or eyeball the stripe width.

I used to prefer drafting tape for this kind of masking, because it doesn’t have too strong an adhesive, but the Tamiya masking tape works every bit as well or better, and is easy to apply. That a good result can be achieved this way is, I hope, shown by the photo below, of an AHM 10 roomette-6 double bedroom, or 10-6, car. These aren’t perfect — but they are straight. 

In the photo above, you can see that there are no stabilizer bars added yet, alongside the diaphragms (for background on these bars, see this post: ). I use a length of brass wire, 0.028-inch or 0.035-inch size, to represent these. Here is the car shown above, with the bars added. It’s a full-width diaphragm.

I might also note that there are a variety of diaphragm face plates on SP cars like these. Many were delivered with the plain face plate you see above,  running to the top of the car body, as part of a full-width diaphragm. This is what is shown on the 10-6 car above. 

But in later years, when the full-width diaphragms were removed, in some cases a shorter face plate was either cut down from an original plate, such as the one shown above, or a new face plate of reduced height was a replacement. Here’s an illustration of that, also on a 10-6. The“rust” on the face plate was made with Pan Pastel “Red Iron Oxide” material.

For the present project, the 13 DB and 4-4-2 cars,  I began with the striping as my next step prior to lettering. Shown below is the bedroom side of the 13 DB car.

Of course, the emblems that Southern Pacific used on its various passenger trains are a topic of great interest and pleasure to SP fans, not least the distinctive Lark emblem. It was obviously derived from the first of these emblems, the familiar ball and wing of the Daylight emblem, but nicely has the ball in silver, suggesting the moon, for this overnight train.

Below is shown the emblem, with dimensions, taken directly from John Signor’s artwork in the fine reference book,  Southern Pacific Painting and Lettering Guide: Locomotives and Passenger Cars, 2nd edition, Jeff Cauthen and John Signor (SPH&TS, Upland, CA, 2019). You can click on the image to enlarge it if you wish.

My next challenge here is decals. Some decal makers are out of stock on decals for these cars. (Microscale catalogs a superb set, 87-761, with insignias for most of SP’s streamlined trains, including the Lark emblem shown above, but it’s been out of stock for some time.) Champ offered an excellent set back in the day (Champ decals, set PH-110, “Southern Pacific Lark Passenger Car”) with white lettering and very nice Lark emblems. Thin Film Decals has a superb set, HO 158, intended for Two-Tone Gray cars and having outlined silver lettering, but no Lark emblems. Luckily I found an old Champ set in my stash, and will proceed with lettering. More in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Monday, September 25, 2023

Route cards, Part 25: still more grading

In a series of posts, I have been writing about both route cards, cards that direct movement of freight cars, and grading cards, those that give results of an inspection of a car interior for loading. This one continues my topic of grading cards and systems. The previous post like this can be found here: . As before, all cards are from the collection of Michael Litant. 

For my first example, an interesting instance from the Great Northern in which specific commodities are called out for the inspector’s use. Notice that there is also a provision to identify an empty car or to reweigh it. The card, 4 inches square, is dated March 7, 1967 at Grand Forks, but lists no car.

A second example is a joint card from the C&O and B&O, colorful and attention getting. It’s 4 x 8 inches overall, but is intended to be folded with the relevant grade outermost (here, grade D), and when so folded is about 2.5 x 4 inches. In addition to the usual grades A through D, there is a grade K for either wash-out or clean-out needs, and a grade H to direct a car to its home shop for repairs. Unfortunately, no car is identified, nor a full date.

Third, I will show an interesting card, because vertical in format, from Norfolk & Western. It only allows for two grades, A and A-1. Date is October 16, 1966, and the car was NKP 18451, a 40-foot, 50-ton box car. Card size is 4 x 7.5 inches.

Fourth is a 4-inch square card from the Peoria & Pekin (Illinois) Joint Car Inspection Bureau, doubtless serving multiple railroads (at least including Rock Island, Burlington, TP&W, New York Central, M&StL, C&IM, C&NW, Pennsylvania, Illinois Central, GM&O, and of course the Peoria & Pekin Union). It is 4 inches square. One side shows grade A for high-quality cargoes including bulk starch, while the other side show other relatively high-grade commodities. No car or location is shown.

Fifth, an interesting though single-sided Union Pacific grading card, with considerable information printed on it, though no car is identified. The card shows the section for grain highlighted by crossing out the other commodities there. It is stamped for Council Bluffs, Iowa, and has hand-written on the back, “Cargill, So. Omaha,” presumably where the car was destined for loading. It is 5 x 7.25 inches in size.

For a sixth example, a Burlington card, 3.5 inches square, with the usual categories of grading by commodity, interestingly including the notation “O.K.” to indicate suitability. The car is shown as CB&Q 18207, a 40-foot steel box car, but no location.

Finally I will show is one of those interesting ones used in a switching district or terminal area, this one from Atlanta Joint Terminals. It’s 3.5 inches square, and being single-sided, can only identify “grade A” cars, and the car identified appears to be B&O 478159, a 50-foot steel box car with double doors.

All these cards differ from most of the ones shown earlier in this series of posts, and continue to demonstrate the wide variety in how individual railroads chose to categorize grading and its designation on empty cars. I think all of them are nice examples.

Tony Thompson

Friday, September 22, 2023

Re-purposing an MTH reefer

As most readers likely know, “MTH” are the initials of Mike’s Train House, full name MTH Electric Trains, founded by Mike Wolf. Just as background: I greatly admired Mr. Wolf’s guts when he took on the mighty Union Pacific and its misguided effort to charge model manufacturers use fees for the names of all its predecessor railroads, went to court, and won (2006). But the many legal entanglements and business practice controversies surrounding MTH were a different matter, and I’ve avoided purchasing MTH products. (For background, you may consult Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/MTH_Electric_Trains ). 

Today, Scale Trains has acquired all the HO and S scale tooling formerly used by MTH. For HO scale at least, a model originally made by MTH now has that designation only historically. Why might I be interested?

A few years ago, as was widely recognized at the time, MTH produced an HO scale ice refrigerator car model, that they called a “steel” car. Why that term was used is quite unclear, because the model is obviously not a steel-sided car at all, but a rather accurate representation of one of Pacific Fruit Express’s plywood-side rebuilt cars, from Class R-40-24. 

[This interesting PFE class happened to be the concluding class of PFE rebuilds of older cars, largely because essentially all the older cars had been used up. The plywood-side experiment, initially successful, began to fail in a few years, and tongue-and-groove siding, not fresh plywood, was used for replacement. For much more on these cars, see Chapter 7 in the PFE book: Pacific Fruit Express, 2nd edition, Signature Press, 2000.]

These models are readily available on-line these days for prices around $10, well below their new price. (For the current model version from Scale Trains, you can visit their site: .) I decided to buy one on-line and see about upgrading to a model of PFE Class R-40-24. Since I knew I would want to apply all new and correct PFE lettering anyway, the road name purchased wasn’t important.

The first step was to remove the MDT lettering and its 1964 reweigh date. My first try at removing the lettering worked nicely: puddle Walthers “Solvaset” over the lettering for five minutes, scrub each area with a Q-tip, repeat until lettering is gone. It didn’t take long, and the paint was unaffected. The two colors on the body, by the way, are quite decent versions of the PFE colors, so no repainting is needed.

Next I chose the PFE paint scheme I wanted to apply. The plywood sides began to be applied in 1947, and PFE liked to repaint wood-sided cars in four to eight years. So by the time I model, 1953, odds are not bad that a car like this would have been repainted. Those odds are increased by two factors: first, the original paint scheme at rebuilding, with full-color UP emblems, had been superseded by black-white ones, and PFE liked in those days to keep paint schemes current; and second, shops were very busy in the late 1940s and early 1950s, handling above-average numbers of cars.

For lettering this car, I could once again enjoy using one of the great decal sets in the hobby, Microscale 87-501, with the superb Dick Harley lettering features and details, beautifully arranged for the convenience of the modeler and extremely complete and accurate. What a pleasure to use!

To guide the lettering, photographs are always good, but in the case of PFE cars, we have a superb authority, the Southern Pacific Historical & Technical Society book,  Southern Pacific Freight Car Painting and Lettering Guide (Harley and Thompson, SPH&TS, Upland, California, 2016), which contains an extensive section, nearly half the book, about PFE, with Dick Harley’s excellent lettering research. I chose the 1951 scheme on page 145 as a likely repaint scheme for this car.

With lettering applied and a protective coat of flat finish, here is the right side of the car at this point. I have even included the reservoir stencil, taken from a Sunshine repacking decal.

Next I wanted to add light weathering, mostly on the roof, which got dirty sooner than the sides. The photo below illustrates that even light roof weathering, seemingly changing the appearance little, nevertheless does create a definite contrast to the original color. Compare the color here of roof and end.

And lastly, I weather sides and ends and, after a protective coat of flat finish, add a few chalk marks with a Prismacolor pencil, and route cards. This car is ready for service.

I always enjoy projects for PFE models, particularly when it includes working with the superb Microscale decal set 87-501, as this one did. Operators on my layout will be seeing this car around the packing houses soon!

Tony Thompson

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

A Santa Rosalia fishing boat, Part 2

In the previous post on this topic, I showed some of the prototype photos and information I had found about California coastal fishing boats as well as the fishery itself in the area of the California coast that I’m modeling, and the beginning of the assembly of a Frenchman River Models fishing boat (you can read that post at: ). To see some background about the locale of my layout, you may consult a post on that subject from a number of years ago (see it at: ).

In the previous post about my fishing boat model, the basic boat was almost ready for painting. I added a few more details which ought to be the same color as the hull of the model, and spray-painted the assembly white. This will permit a lot of weathering to make the boat look well used, while preserving a very common color for boats of this kind. Here it is at this stage.  

The next assembly step was to install the mast. This was an area of concern to me in building the model, in the way the boom that attaches to the mast. I’m not an experienced ship modeler, but to me this attachment seemed to rely on a fairly small glued area. To counter any fragility there, I drilled through the mast and boom end so I could insert a brass wire of 0.028-inch diameter, which should considerably strengthen this joint. That said, I was impressed with the excellent way in which the mast inserts into the hull, very securely attached with CA.

Note that the anchor winch on the foredeck and the mast winch at the base of the mast have been set in place also, though not permanently installed. 

At this point, detailing begins to be added to the hull, so a decision needs to be made about trim colors. The Frenchman River kit illustrations show model boats with a trim color in addition to a basic gray or white body color, and most prototype California fishing boats show the same. I decided to use a medium gray, which could readily be brush painted, namely Tamiya  “Imperial Japanese Navy Gray (Kure Arsenal)”, no. XF-75, for trim.  

I began with the wheelhouse part (not yet attached to the hull), just to see how it looked. The result is below. I felt that this was about the right amount of trim color, and also felt that gray was a good background sort of color. Note that I have also started to dirty up the white color, to some extent. This will need to go further in the completed boat.

Next came the hull. Here I relied on the common appearance of boats like this, with essentially a single stripe along the hull sides. I simply masked either side of the chosen area and sprayed, using the same gray color. The result was what I had been aiming at, and the assembly now looked like this.

I haven’t decided how much rigging I want to do, for the boom and its winch. My present intent is to  minimize rigging, since the boat will be depicted moored at the dock in Santa Rosalia harbor. More on detailing in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Route cards, Part 24: examples of route cards

 In my recent posts that are part of a series about route cards, I have been including grading cards also, as Michael Litant’s collection includes both (both can be found on route card boards and on placard boards). To see any of those previous posts, the easiest way is to use “Route cards” as the search term in the search box at right. In the present post, I continue with route cards only. 

My first example is from the Akron, Canton & Youngstown. It identifies the car as SSW 46322, a 40-foot double-door automobile car, as apparently containing plywood, and is destined to Erie, PA. The card is 4 inches square.

A second one is a card identifying a car as either just cleaned, or needing to be cleaned, at Sanford, Florida. The card isn’t identified as to issuer, and though it may be an Atlantic Coast Line card, it could also be a Fruit Growers card for servicing refrigerator cars. The card is 3 x 7.5 inches, it’s dated May 13, 1967, and the car is FGEX 38970, a 40-foot ice refrigerator car.

Third, an interesting card is this Santa Fe example, labeled as a Switch Order Card, something I haven’t seen so identified before, though many route cards are exactly that. The car is ATSF 151490 , a 50-foot single-sheathed, single-door box car (abbreviated “AT” as was common on the Santa Fe), carried sugar, and it is stamped with what appears to be a destination — it looks like “933-R,” though I don’t know what that refers to. The card is 4 inches square.

I have shown some Burlington cards before. This one evidently is an urgent card, as I would interpret the word “TIME,” and it was made out at St. Joe (presumably Missouri) for RBBX 79106. That was a 50-foot insulated box car owned by Burlington Refrigerator Express. The card’s designation  may involve a switching group (“Group Number 115”) and is headed for a junction at Sioux City. It’s 3 x 4 inches.

This larger card (3.5 x 8.5 inches) would just barely fit on a route card board, and is a transfer slip for the Central of Georgia. The car was IC 118743, a 40-foot, 50-ton box car. Much of the writing is rather faded and hard to read, but it’s intriguing that it contains considerable waybill-like information about the destination and contents of the car.

Last, I will show a small Cotton Belt card, with the railroad emblem included. It’s 3.5 inches square, and isn’t filled out, except for the number 27107 at upper right, which could be a car number. It might be logical to assume that with no reporting mark listed, it was a Cotton Belt car, but as late as 1970, there was no such car number in Official Railway Equipment Register (ORER) listings for the Cotton Belt.

Like all the prior examples of prototype route cards, I find the variety of these to be interesting and instructive about the different ways individual railroads went about routing and directing car movements. I hope to include more route cards in a future post.

Tony Thompson

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A detail you can add to the Rapido box cars

I’ve written several pieces about the recent Southern Pacific box cars from Rapido Trains in HO scale. And while pointing out a few relatively minor issues with the cars, I have praised them in several contexts. There ended up being a series of four such posts, the fourth of which contains links to the previous three (see that post at: ).

But what I wanted to keep separate while dealing with much of the entire run from Rapido is a single detail that was omitted from some of the cars, and it’s one I always make use of. It’s the route card board. Now let me hasten to observe that when the SP Class B-50-15 and -16 cars were built, they had wood sheathing, thus route cards could be tacked anywhere on sides or doors.

But in the mid-1930s, SP began to steel-sheath some of the cars, by simply welding steel sheet inside the superstructure framing, and adding steel-sheathed doors. That naturally raised the issue of route card boards, and of course the prompt result was that route card boards were added to the steel doors. Here’s a photo to show that (photo by Robert McFarland, from Arnold Menke’s collection, taken at Bayshore in 1940).

In the photo above, there is a route card on the door’s board, but it may be hard to see. Here’s a detail of the photo above. in order to show just the door. The board is located at the end of a reinforcement strap on the surface of the door, with the card very typically tacked at an angle. And an incidental observation, for those who think it isn’t visible on models, the chain slack on the K brake cylinder linkage beneath the car.

Rapido chose to put route card boards on none of these models. They did have to produce both a wood door and a steel door, so I’m not sure why it was omitted from the steel door, but it was.

Incidentally, neither the size nor the shape of this route card board look like the “recommended standard” 5.5 x 9-inch design that was introduced in 1937. But as late as 1952, this was still not mandatory, and many prototype photos in the intervening years show that plenty of railroads used their own design of route card board. For more on this history, see my earlier post: .

As is visible in the photos above, the SP board on these cars is a little more square than the recommended dimensions. Of course it is extremely easy to represent any size or shape of board with a small piece of styrene strip. That is what I chose to do with my Rapido box cars that had steel doors. I simply attached the strips with canopy glue, as you see below.

The new boards can then be painted and, if need be, weathered to match the rest of the car. That was my procedure, mixing paint to get close to the weathered color of cars that had already been weathered. Then I added the usual small rectangles of paper, white or a color. Here’s an example on an Overnight-assigned car from Class B-50-16:

Many modelers will overlook or not even notice the omission of the route card boards on these models of cars with steel doors, but since I put route cards on most of my freight cars, it did jump out to me as something I needed to remedy. As shown above, it’s a very easy fix.

Tony Thompson