Thursday, February 28, 2019

A dedication

Right before Thanksgiving last year,  I corresponded via email with Chester Fesmire about his remarkable blog dedicated to 1/87 (HO) scale vehicle modeling, Modeling in 1/87. He is one of the finest scale modelers I have ever come across, be it railroad, vehicles, aircraft, armor or any other subject matter. I had been visiting his blog and asked if he might consider adding a search box to aid me (and others) in trying to find things he might have posted about by searching for various terms. Chester said he would try, but he wasn't entirely tech savvy, so I walked him through the steps and we succeeded in adding the search tool.

I was also hopeful I might meet him at the Springfield show in late January in the area where the vehicle guys congregate in the Mallory building. Imagine my shock and chagrin to find that Chester passed away in December from terminal cancer. What an incredible loss and what an amazing person. While fighting cancer, he took the time to respond and help me out. I am deeply saddened by his passing and send my condolences to his family.

I encourage you to visit his blog to see the incredible legacy he has left us in digital form.

Image above lifted with the utmost respect from Chester's blog. Thank you, Chester.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

California Pacific Utilities Gas Company in Medford, Oregon

A little while back, I posted about some of the pieces of Medford, Oregon that I intend to replicate in my proto-freelanced town of Jefferson, Oregon. One of the industries I intend to add is the California Pacific Utilities Gas Company. The bit of the Sanborn Map containing it is shown here. I have been trying to trace the company history to no avail (I haven't tried that hard yet; my assumption is it was rolled into Pacific Gas & Electric at some point). 

While I have the ca. 1950-1951 Sanborn Map, I also have the 1956 aerial survey photo. A lot changed in those five years. The map and photo provide plenty of information for a very strong replica of this industry. One thing that has eluded me is knowing what tank car lines served this industry. In the absence of a definitive answer, I plan to go with a "market" solution involving many providers including Tidewater, Anchor, and Warren as well as some "generics" such as UTLX and SHPX.

The actual structure will be mostly scratchbuilt and combined with tanks from Walthers (they were discontinued for a time, but are currently available). In addition to the photos, I am referencing the article "Model a Propane Bulk Plant" by Paul Dolkos in the Model Railroader special issue, How to Build Realistic Layouts.

I hope to have this completed by the beginning of summer. Stay tuned...

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The New England Berkshire & Western

As many of you are aware from the postings on numerous email lists, discussion boards, and blogs, the New England, Berkshire & Western (NEB&W), the proto-freelanced layout operated by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) club, is facing an imminent and unplanned move to accommodate renovations of the dorm in which the layout resides, Davison Hall. To say the layout is an institution in the hobby is as gross an understatement as can be made. It is simply one of the best known layouts in the history of the hobby. Unfortunately, at the time I write this, it is not known where the layout will be relocated to and whether it will even survive in its current form. That is obviously a problem of great import to the club. I will not try to offer any additional commentary about that.

I would like to offer some sense of what the club and layout have meant as seen through my eyes. It is hard to convey the influence the club and its members have had on the hobby. A great professional coach is usually judged not only by his or her success as coach, but also by the tree of others who successfully carry the torch forward. If the NEB&W is a coach, its tree is enormous too. It has produced some of the most prolific students and writers that the prototype modeling community has seen, including John Nehrich, Jeff English, and Ben Hom, to name a few (and there are many, many others). Look through any magazine in the hobby during the 80s and 90s and it would be difficult to find an issue without a byline from a member of the RPI-NEB&W family tree.

For me personally, the club and its shop were a source of great inspiration. The arrival of the latest issue of Shoptalk was better than any issue of MR, RMC, Model Railroading or RMJ. While Shoptalk was brief, it focused on exactly what interested me and had a catalog of the things that I wanted to buy. I lived in Connecticut and went to college in Hamilton, New York in the late 80s and early 90s. Troy and RPI were about the halfway point on my drives to and from college. The shop had all the freight car detail parts, Sunshine kits (in stock!), RPI exclusive resin kits, Westerfield, plus decals, all in one place! For a prototype freight car modeler, it was the proverbial candy store. Additionally, for many years the RPI club hosted a large show in the field house with a collection of discriminating hobby retailers. While the shop and the show disappeared, the club's influence remained strong, including the web site that John Nehrich maintained, with all of the great Steam Era Freight Car info.

I hope that the club can quickly find a new home, get settled and start operating again soon. The influence of the club on me and my education has been enormous and I hate to see it in hibernation.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Santa Fe Bx-37 and Plain Bearing ASF Spring Plankless Truck

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 15, 1941, The Sirman Collection
The genesis of this post was to illustrate the journal packing material in a plain bearing* truck. However, I also identified that the car that had toppled on to its side was a Santa Fe Bx-37, and I decided to combine the two things into a single post.

The Bx-37 class was the largest single class of forty-foot steel box cars on the Santa Fe, with 5,010 copies. The cars were constructed by Pullman-Standard in 1941-1942. They were assigned to series 141301-144310 (1941) and 145500-147499 (1942). The cars followed the design of the Modified 1937 AAR box car (a taller version of the 1937 AAR design, with an inside height between 10'4" and 10'6".) However, the cars included many subtleties that collectively made them uniquely Santa Fe in nature. These are called out in the photo. Most of these cars rode on National Type B trucks, as shown on ATSF 143478. However, some used ASF-supplied trucks like the one in the wreck highlighted here.

John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library
The photo of the cast steel sideframe spring plankless truck is included to illustrate the packing material used to facilitate lubrication. This material was placed at the bottom of the journal boxes and was soaked in lubricant. The oil lubricant was transferred to the journals as the trucks rolled, providing lubrication to the moving surfaces. At various places on railroads, usually at yards, oil was added to the journal boxes. The material was repacked at intervals, usually around 12 months, and the repacking stencil was updated to reflect this, with the location, railroad, and date stenciled on the car. These were easily discernible on a dirty car as they were small patches of fresh paint with clean stencils (usually white.)

The detailed truck photo illustrates the repacking data. It is from a Seaboard Air Line 1932 ARA box car, class B 6. It was built in December, 1934 and the journals were repacked at Portsmouth, Virginia, on January, 30, 1936. The type used reflect the era. It is highly ornate and stylized, even for such tiny lettering. Of course, this “flourish” would not really be discernible for such small characters rendered in HO scale.

*please refrain from calling plain bearing trucks “friction” bearing trucks. The modifier “friction” was likely the brainchild of the marketing team at Timken, Fafnir, et al to denigrate existing technology and create a perceived need for their own products. Granted, roller bearings are more efficient, but to imply that plain bearings induced undue amounts of friction is not really true. If kept lubricated, plain bearings rolled well. Roller bearings simply required less maintenance and were more efficient at starting.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Wordy Wednesday - Delaware & Hudson 36-foot Double Sheathed Box Car D&H 23659

Al Armitage photo, late 1940s
Delaware & Hudson 23659 is highlighted in “Wordy Wednesday” for several reasons. Foremost, it is an extremely interesting car. For modelers of the postwar era into the 1950s, finding 36-foot box cars to model is always a challenge (I will present a subsequent post covering a roster of some of my favorite early 1950s 36-foot box car modeling possibilities). When the Canadian Fowler patent single sheathed cars are excepted, the field of 36-foot candidates shrinks markedly, particularly for West Coast modelers. These D&H cars are suitable subjects for modeling, as many were still around in the early 1950s.

The prototypes were acquired in 1907, 2,800 cars in total. They were progressively rebuilt between 1924 and 1936. Improvements included Hutchins Dry Lading roofs, new ends (indented Hutchins) or refurbishing of the composite or facsimiles of the ‘Indestructible’ ends, replacement trucks, AB schedule brakes (eventually), Ajax power hand brakes to most cars, if not all, and Wine ladders. 

The other main reason for profiling these cars is that they are unusual prototypes, but would not be extremely difficult to replicate through judicious use of kitbashing and/or scratchbuilding. One could either scratchbash the models using an Accurail 1300 or 1700-series car as the starting point* or scratchbuild most of the model. Either means would yield an attractive result.

My plan is to model one of the cars following the latter approach. I will scratchbuild most components, fabricating the sides, ends (‘Indestructible’ as shown in the photo), and underframe and use a spare resin casting of a Hutchins Dry Lading roof. I will chronicle my efforts for publication in some medium. Decals will be made available for those wishing to collaborate virtually.

*I seem to remember that years ago John Nehrich kitbashed at least one of these cars using an MDC model as the starting point. I have a copy of the article somewhere and once I locate it, I will publish a separate post with the details. I think it was in Railroad Model Craftsman and I believe it included drawings, likely from the late Chuck Yungkurth.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Arrowhead Models Definitive HO 1:87.1 Wheelset

One of my regular customers brought a box of these to show to me at Timonium last Sunday. He had purchased them from M. B. Klein ( - at the time of this post there were some of the subject items in stock; none were available from Arrowhead Models.) The item I am referring to is the "Definitive HO 1:87.1 Wheelset" from Arrowhead Models, available in both 33 and 36-inch HO scale diameter wheels.

I ordered two packs from M. B. Klein and they arrived within a few days. The packaging itself is impressive (a little too much in the opinion of this avowedly "green" writer), consisting of a box and blister pack "cradles" designed to protect any of the wheels from coming into contact and possible damaging the needle-pointed axle tips.

The wheelsets are as advertised. There is little doubt that these are some of the finest wheelsets I have ever seen. The shape is impressive, with each wheel and axle machined from nickel silver. They are insulated on one axle. I presume that given that the founder of Arrowhead had a previous relationship with Exactrail, these wheelsets are a related brainchild to Exactrail's "World's Finest Wheels" which are similarly machined, but blackened.

The nits and they are really more of wishes. Using a micrometer, I measured the wheelset axle length to be just under 1.000". I would really like to see a few other axle length offerings, perhaps 0.975", something in the 1.010" or 1.015" range, and similarly a 1.025"-1.030" range. In addition, I would like to see a 100-pack at a slightly more attrative per unit price. Lastly, make more! These were practically gone before I even knew of their existence.

Price from M. B. Klein is $42.95 plus shipping for 24 wheelsets.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Mission Models Chisel Tool

In my recent kitbashing clinic at Prototype Rails, I (again) left out description of a specific tool that I use frequently and love (too strong a word?) The tool is the Mission Models chisel. I have omitted it from clinic discussions because I erroneously thought that it or similar proxies were not available (I purchased mine directly from Mission Models over a decade ago; Mission is now defunct, although there is an unrelated Mission Models website that sells paint and modeling supplies.) On a whim, I searched google and discovered that not only is the Mission Models tool still available from Sprue Brothers, as well as on ebay, but UMM-USA also now markets a similar product (Ultra Micro chisels) in multiple size blades. These sites both cater to the military modeling community.

What is the value of this tool? If you frequently use an Xacto no. 17 chisel blade, the Mission Models and UMM-USA chisels are not necessarily direct replacements. Their advantages are a few. First, the cutting blade is far narrower than a no. 17 chisel, making it more precise and able to fit into tighter areas, where a larger wayward no. 17 blade could mar detail that one wants left untouched. Additionally, because the blade is created from hardened steel with a shorter rounded base, it is far stronger than a no. 17 chisel (I have had no. 17 blades snap in half; that will not happen with a Mission Models chisel blade.)

As noted above, there are a few different blades available. For the Mission Models versions, the blades may be interchanged in the handle and tightened using a set screw. The UMM-USA versions have integral handles that are similar to the Mission Models. However, rather than swapping out the chisels, you simply buy each chisel/handle separately.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

How to Build Realistic Reliable Track

As I begin compiling my task lists, both mentally and on paper, to start the process of turning my layout vision into reality, I have been revisiting many of the resources I have collected over the years to be used at some point in the future, which has become now. One resource that I have found to be invaluable is How to Build Realistic Reliable Track from Kalmbach (unfortunately, it appears to no longer be available new; searches on ebay, alibris, and abebooks may be fruitful.) Over a decade ago, I had a plan to use and write about the various track and detailing offerings from Central Valley, Details West, FastTracks, the Proto 87 store at ( as well as Micro Engineering, with an eye towards track that was detailed as finely as possible.

While the Reliable Track volume from Kalmbach does not address some of my own personal goals, it does provide a wealth of great information about putting track to roadbed and getting trains running over it. One article that I found particularly interesting is “Quiet roadbed, better train sounds” by Bob Kingsnorth. It is a great research study on the merits and qualities of various roadbed materials and combinations. It certainly makes one think hard about what to lay your track down upon when the time comes. One missing material, likely due to it not being available at the time the article was written, is Track-Bed from Woodland Scenics. It appears to be a compelling solution and I will write about in future as I get things constructed.

I heartily recommend this issue in the Realistic Series from Kalmbach.