Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Small Projects Around the Club (Part 2) - Fixing a Ballast Load

Another of those small nagging things that I saw at the La Mesa Club in San Diego was the damage to the load in one of my old Train Miniatures/Walthers Hart "Ballast" (Work) Gondolas. 

SP 12070, one of the W-50-3 class Hart Ballast (work) cars that SP owned.

I'll mention first off the bat is that Dry Creek Models has made some limited 3d prints for these cars.  Robert Bowdidge discusses the history of various models of these cars on his blog: Comparing 3d Printed Models Against Kits of the Past.

The Original Kitbash

I suppose I should talk briefly about the kitbashing that I did to these cars to make them 'more accurate', although there are serious issues with the models that make them cheap stand-ins at best.  My original work on these models was done in the early-2000s. 

These cars should be more properly called "Work Cars" because they were not limited to only dumping ballast.  Originally, the prototypes for these cars had side-doors and were convertible to have a flat bottom and drop ends.  A wedge could be pulled through on a wench (which occupied an entire car!) and successive gondolas could be unloaded with the plow pushing the dirt out the sides of these cars.

Interior of  TM/Walthers SP W-50-3 class "Work Car" - 2004

 In their ballasting configuration, these cars have Hart-type drop doors down the center line, which are revealed when the cover panels are lifted up and outward on hinges to form longitudinal slope sheets.  This made the car completely self clearing.  The end panels were movable from the end of the car inward to for the ends of the ballast compartment over the bolsters.

In the later years, these cars had their side doors fixed closed or replaced entirely with solid sides.  Some cars even had steel side sheets installed!  The cars with fixed sides had grab irons installed, as the molded-on ones are for the TM/Walthers model.

Modifications to the underside of the TM/Walthers model. - 2004

The photo above is from 2004 showing the moved centersill trusses moved in-board and the K-brake moved out to the sidesill of the car.  A new Tichy staff brake mechanism, staff and brakewheel has been installed.

The remaining problem is that the sides are 5-boards high, and should be MUCH lower with only 3 boards (about 36" high).  This would require cutting out the center portion of the sides all the way around.  This could be done with a saw, but I've not decided to try it .... yet.  I have several more bodies, so I might at some point in the future.

The Current Problem

In the early 2000's I'd made ballast loads for the three cars that I kitbashed.  I noticed during my last trip to San Diego that one of them was damaged.  It seems the ballast wasn't glued as well as it should have been.

Ballast Load damage - 2018

The center section of this load completely failed and broke away from the plastic sub-sheet which I made to match the interior of the car body.  I elected to fashion a 'patch' of ballast to fill in the missing center section of ballast in the load.  Once the ballast was formed into the 'right' shape that I liked, I coated the load with 'wet' water (water with a drop of liquid soap, or isopropal alcohol) which wets the loose ballast without disturbing it.  Then 50% white glue-water mix was applied to fully saturate the load this time.  After all, I don't want this to fail again!

Adding Spilled Ballast

On these cars I'm sure there was also a tendency to have ballast or dirt spill onto the deck at the ends of the car, when the end panels were positioned over the bolsters.

Here the white glue is added to the A-end of the car. Notice the shadows from the main load damage.

Once the glue is down, like in so many pre-school projects, the glitter..... errr, I mean ballast! is added.

Ballast has been added to the A-end and some 'wet' water added to help the shapes look natural.

Unlike so many 'glue craft' projects, I added the 'wet' water to break the surface tension of the glue and pull the ballast down into a realistic form.

The ballast around the B-end of the car.

The ballast would tend to spread out the longer and farther the cars were pulled, eventually falling out the open end of the car, so I kept any 'piling' back close to the end panel of the ballast compartment.

Finishing Up

Here's the finished SP 12070 being switched at Caliente by the SP 2850.

A reverse view of the SP 12070 at Caliente behind SP 2850.

During the 'clean up' phase I broke off single pieces of ballast that somehow decided to stick to the vertical sides of the car body, and anything else that wasn't 'realistic'.

Jason Hill

Related Articles:

Ex-EPSW 40ft Ballast Car - Kitbashing an old Mantua gondola into a prototype model

Athearn 65ft Mill Gondolas (SP and other RRs) - Prototype history and weathering

A Trip Over Tehacahpi on Santa Fe's SCX-BI - Ride on a 3rd Class freight over one of the largest prototype operating model railroads in the country.

Busy Times in Bakersfield (Part 2) - SP Yard Overview - An in depth look at modeling a prototype division point yard during the 1950s.

Triple Trouble on Tehachapi - A Weird Day on the Hill - Bending the rules... the railroad way!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

SP's Great RPO Shuffle of 1949-1953

During the post-war years the SP system scrambled to get new equipment and keep up with the changes in the various passenger trains and equipment requirements.  Not surprisingly around the time of the Cascade, Sunset Limited, and Shasta Daylight the US Post Office also pressed some contract changes to certain trains.

SP 4258 leads No.58 across the LA River in the last mile of the trip to LAUPT. John Shaw Photo - James Salkeld Collection

A Scramble for 60ft RPO Cars

In 1950, the Lark's regularly assigned 60ft RPO cars disappeared.

According to the consist sheet (published in Southern Pacific Passenger Trains: Vol.1 Night Trains of the Coast Route, by Dennis Ryan and Joseph Shine, 1986 Four Ways West Publishing) for the Lark, the three upgraded 60ft RPO cars were removed from the assignment on the Lark and replaced with 70ft (30ft Apartment - 40ft Baggage) RPO "Combine" cars.  The question is why?

SP 4119, the 'protection' 60ft RPO for the Lark, upgraded in 1941.

The only SP cars really suitable for high-speed operations on the Lark would have been the three 70-BP-30-2/3s (SP 5069, 5070, & 5124) upgraded in 1941 for the San Joaquin Daylight.

SP 5124, upgraded in 1941 with high speed derail-guards, etc as the 'protection' car for the San Joaquin Daylight.

In 1950 the SP started rebuilding three 80-BH-1 horse-baggages into 60ft RPO Apartment cars with a 20ft baggage section for use on the San Joaquin Daylights

SP 5217, one of three 60ft Apartment cars rebuilt for the San Joaquin Daylight starting in 1950.

During this time the San Joaquin Daylight regularly used two 70-BP-30s in each consist to fill out the 60ft Apartment contract.  This is not surprising, since the SP only rebuilt one 80-BH-1 in 1950, and the other two came in the following years.

Where'd the 60ft RPO Cars All Go?

So this brings up several questions...
1. What did the SP need the 60ft RPO Apartment cars for if not the Lark and the San Joaquin Daylight?

Well, I should mention some other interesting tidbits at this point.  The SP 5217 or 5218 was photographed in the Argonaut, running east of Los Angeles during this time.  So it would seem that even though it was rebuilt for the San Joaquin Daylight, it was operating on other trains on the Sunset Route.

2. Were there other SP trains that were using the 60ft Apartment cars borrowed from the Lark and the new upgraded San Joaquin Daylight cars?

It would seem from other photos that 60ft HW RPOs were still operating on the Overland and Shasta Routes as usual, so why the sudden need for at least five more 60ft RPO cars?

3.  What happened to all the 60ft RPOs that the SP owned from the early 1910-1920s?

When I went digging in the SP Passenger Cars Vol.3 book and compiled up all the service dates for the older 60-P-1/2/3/4 class and six 60-P class rebuilds, I found that several had been retired over the years, but a HUGE number of them were converted to Postal Storage over the years.  Five were on long term lease to the Southern Pacific de Mexico, which then became FCP in 1951 and were sold off with SPdem/FCP.

4. If it was simply an upgrade program and reconditioning of the Lark's cars, why was the SP not able to do a more elegant job of timing it so they didn't have to replace at least 5 (SP 4117, 4118, 4119 - Lark, SP 5217, 5218 - San Joaquin) cars for 18 months.

This possibly would have cause a lot of issues if these cars were forming the SP's protection pool and if the sale of the SPdM came sooner than expected, overlapping with the RPO contract changes in 1949-1951.  Basically the SP was OUT of 60ft RPO cars.

SP 60ft RPO History After 1949

The SP originally owned about 36 RPOs in the various 60-P-series classes.  However over the years most had been converted to PS (Postal Storage) service.  Only a very few were left in 1949.  Let's look at the SP's 60ft RPO fleet disposition as of 1949.

SP 4114, converted from a 60-B-10 baggage car in 1940.

The following six cars were converted from 60-B-10
SP 4114 Converted in 1940 from 60-B-10 SP 6049
SP 4115 Converted in 1940 from 60-B-10 SP 6053
SP 4116 Converted in 1940 from 60-B-10 SP 6238
SP 4117 Converted in 1940 from 60-B-10 SP 6239, Streamlined for Lark service in 1941
SP 4118 Converted in 1940 from 60-B-10 SP 6240, Streamlined for Lark service in 1941
SP 4119 Converted in 1940 from 60-B-10 SP 6241, Painted for Lark protection service in 1941

The earlier 60-P-1/2/3/4 class cars had this window arrangement.

The following cars were among the last 60-P-series cars in regular postal service which were removed in 1949.
  SP 4108 Converted to PS in 1949
  SP 4110 Converted to PS in 1949
  SP 4112 Converted to PS in 1949

The following cars were on lease before 1951 or sold to SPdeM in 1951
  SP 4249 Leased to SPdeM in 1927, Sold to SPdeM in 1951.
  SP 4250 Leased to SPdeM in 1943, Sold to SPdeM in 1951.
  SP 4251 Leased to SPdeM in 1943, Sold to SPdeM in 1951.
  SP 4259 to SPdeM in 1951
  SP 4260 to SPdeM in 1951

I'm uncertain about the following cars:
  SP 4097 (Converted to 60-PS, unknown date)
  SP 4087 (Restored to Postal - unsure of date)

  SP 4245 Converted from 60-B-6 6356 in 1936 - unclear disposition
  SP 4246 Converted from 60-B-5 6417 in 1936 - unclear disposition
  SP 4247 Converted from 60-B-5 6418 in 1936 - unclear disposition
I have no information about the floor plans of the SP 4245-4247 series of three cars as rebuilt.  Given the 1936 rebuild date, I wonder if they followed the earlier 60-P-1 floor plan or the 60-P floor plan as used on the 4114-4119 series four years later.

Given the above data (pulled from the disposition notes in SPH&TS SP Passenger Cars Vol.3 Headend cars) it would seem that the SP was down to only 6 RPOs of 60ft length that I can confirm (4114-4119 series).  There are possibly as many as 5 more cars that were either converted to RPOs in 1936 or not yet converted, or the data's incomplete.

This would only leave the SP with a pool of around 6-11 60ft RPOs in 1949 which was not enough to cover the Argonaut, Klamath, and Overland during 1949-1953 time frame, and would explain why the 4116-4119 were pulled off the Lark and even the new San Joaquin Daylight 5217 and 5218 were slowly converted and 30ft RPO Apartment 'protection' cars were seen on the San Joaquin Daylight for several years, until 1953.

Speculation Abounds

Another possibility of the retirement of the older 60-P-1/2/3/4 series cars is that the USPS's RPO contracts may have changed and specified that the 60ft Apartments match the newer internal arrangement of having the letter sorting cases between the doors, and not in the blind end of the car with the doors between the two sorting areas.

All the 60ft RPOs that the SP started rebuilding between 1940 and 1950+ were followed the 'newer design' standard, this included the 5044 and 5045 (77-BP-60) rebuilt from dining cars in 1954 and the  5217-5219 (80-BP-60) between 1950 and 1954 for the San Joaquin Daylight.

Rebuilding of the RPO Fleet

I should point out that the SP wasn't loosing out on all of their RPOs in 1949, in fact they're rebuilding many of the smaller apartment cars into larger apartment versions.  A coincidence?  I don't really think so anymore.

SP 5130, a 70-BP-30-1 built to the same plan as the 70-BP-15-3s.

In 1948 the Southern Pacific started a rebuild program to convert the 70-BP-15-3s to 30ft Mail Apartments, reclassifying the cars as 70-BP-30.  This conversion program continued into 1949 and 1950.

SP 5148 was one of the rebuilt  70-BP-15- rebuilt as 70-BP-30 class.

The SP still had a fairly large number of 60-BP-15 and 60-BP-30 series cars, but they rode on 4-wheel trucks, which the SP didn't seem to like to assign to higher speed and long-haul trains.  In most photos 6-wheel truck cars were assigned to all long-haul trains which reached high speed, mostly the upgraded 60-P-series, 69-BP-30-series, and 70-BP-30-series cars.

I could go on about the SP's 30ft RPO Apartment fleet, but I'm going to stay on topic about the 60ft RPOs.

The Fall of the RPOs

By 1954, the SP was trimming back the multitude of secondary trains around the system.  Many of SP's classic mail trains didn't survive past 1954 and several secondary trains that did only lasted for a few months into 1955.

A vanishing era as SP 4350 pounds through Modesto in November 1951 with No.55. Nolan Black Photo - Brian Black Collection.

The Cascade replaced the Beaver between Oakland and Portland using new RPOs.  The SP converted the remaining 60-BP-15-2s to Baggage-Express service between 1952 and 1954, also all of its 60-BP-30-1 series cars in 1954 to Baggage-Express service as well.

The SP 5199, a 69-BP-30-3 class, was converted to Baggage-Express service in 1954.

Even the SP's larger 69-BP-30s weren't immune from the downgrading to Baggage-Express service, with 7 being converted to BE between 1939 and 1954, and most of the remaining cars in that series in 1959.

The Baggage-Express car SP 6102, originally SP 5138 70-BP-30-1, was converted in November 1950.

Many of the converted Baggage-Express cars retained their RPO windows and doors, but the interiors were stripped of the RPO apartment fittings, allowing the space to be combined with the baggage section.  Notice also that the 'United States Mail, Railway Post Office' lettering is painted over, indicating that the car is no longer equipped for RPO service and lease to USPS.

The Last of the RPOs

In 1948 the SP bought three new 83-BP-30-1 class cars for the Shasta Daylight.  Followed in 1950 and 1953 by the conversion of two 83-B-1s to 83-BP-30-1s (which was a design option for the class) for the Cascade and Shasta Daylight.

Budd built Stainless Steel 83-BP-30-2 class cars built in 1950 for the Sunset Limited.

The Sunset Limited was supplied in 1950 with six new 83-BP-30-2 cars.  These cars were originally T&NO 220-225, and renumbered as SP 5005-5010 in 1951.

It wasn't until 1964 that SP couldn't keep up the deteriorating fleet of 1910s & 1920s built HW 'Harriman' cars and built new RPO cars SP 5030-5036 (83-BP-60-1) in 1964 and SP 5020-5029 (83-BP_30-3) in 1965 for general service.  These new cars only served 2-3 years before the USPS canceled the RPO contracts with the SP and most railroads in the US, a few in the eastern US continued until around 1979-1982 on selected runs.

Jason Hill

Related Articles:

Railway Post Offices - What and Why - History and info on RPOs

Modeling SP 5199 from a SC&F resin kit (Part 1)

San Joaquin Daylight RPOs (Part 1) - SP 5124

SP HW Passenger Cars - Modeling Index

Modeling a Mail Train (Nos.55/56), the Tehacahpi Mail

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Small Projects Around the Club (Part 1) - Caliente

In early June 2018, I made one of my fairly regular visits to the La Mesa Model Railroad Club in San Diego.

No.59, the West Coast, cruises through Kern Jct. crossing over as it approaches the SP depot at Bakersfield.

After the 1950's TT&TO Operations Reenactment, I was able to spend a few evenings on some lingering projects that needed to be buttoned up.  This is an overview of several of these which really don't take a lot of time, and are fun to get finished.

The Hole in the Bucket - Finally Fixed!

Sometimes modifications to existing buildings and structures sometimes is required when special features need to be replaced or repaired.  The depot at Caliente on the La Mesa Model Railroad Club is one such example.

Here's a 2009 view of the Caliente depot model with the old cover boards.

For far too long, we've had to hide the unfinished deck by spotting a freight car in front of the hole.

The Train Order signal had to be replaced with a new servo operated one.  This required a section of the freight dock decking to be pulled up and the corner of the freight house dock deck was separated.  The corner of the dock became attached to the new TO signal, and the remaining part of the station are then placed against the TO signal and deck corner.

The Station at Caliente while workmen replace a section of the freight deck.

I finished the new wooden deck section in two parts, the larger piece is wrapped around the back of the TO signal mast.  A second section of deck, only two boards wide, forms a filler piece with the rest of the existing deck.

The new deck sections in place.

I used 1x10 and 2x10 planks for the new deck sections.  I used two 2x6 scale lumber boards as stringers under the length of the replacement deck section, which fit between and around the small bulkhead sections.  White glue (wood glue) was used to glue the pieces together.  I used a piece of Tamiya masking tape to hold the wood planks together while the stringers glued the deck boards together.

The new loose covering boards still slightly lift up, but at most viewing angles works well.

The ballast around the edge of the dock is filled in and glued in place with common ballasting techniques of 'wet water' (water with either a drop of dish soap or 50% isopropal alcohol).  Then a diluted glue-water mix with an eye-dropper (pipette) around the edge of the deck.

Caliente Station after the deck work is completed.

With the ballast glued around the base of the deck corner, it should still be possible to pop/break the deck loose if the TO signal needs additional work.  One of the challenges with weathering the new deck was matching the amount of ingrained dust in the older sections of the deck boards.  Even with regular vacuuming, dust seems to find a way to naturally weather models that stay out for long periods of time.  I used a brush with water in it to wash and lightly scrub the older sections of deck to clean them off so I could better match the deck colors.

This project only took about 30 minutes to make the new deck pieces and another 30-45 minutes to paint, this certainly falls into a "One Evening" project.

More Photography - Those Missing Shots

ATSF's Kern Jct. Tower and SP Bakersfield Yard.  The Sunset Rwy interchange are the two tracks to the right of the tower.

One of the projects for this blog I wanted to do at the club during the last trip there was to take certain photos for those times I wanted to do a blog post, but didn't have the appropriate photograph of the item or place.  I was finally able to get a decent photo of the modeled Kern Tower and Bakersfield SP Yard.  Many other photos from this trip will be posted soon in future blog posts.

Jason Hill

Related Articles:

Overview of 1950's TimeTable Operations (Part 1) at La Mesa Model Railroad Club

Triple Trouble Tehachapi - A Weird Day on the Hill

Monday, June 4, 2018

Triple Trouble Tehachapi - A Weird Day on the Hill

Operations on the Railroad always lead to interesting and unexpected situations and dynamic solutions.  Over the years, railroads learn and put out standing instructions relating to bad ideas which have been found to make those situations worse, so as to prevent employees from trying them.

SP 4255 works a freight into Caliente, with helpers coupled farther back in the train.

In a recent discussion, there was a question about double heading AC-class engines on SP freights.  The conversation turned to the SP's general standing orders were to NOT double-head AC-4-12 class engines on freight trains.  This was because of the high likelihood of breaking the couplers near the front of the train.

The topics then moved to showing a few examples where things didn't go as planned, and obviously the SP men "bent" the rules, and of course someone was there to record it... This is one such story.

A "Normal End" to an "Everyday" Day?

Normal SP freight operations in the early 1950's with four F7s on the front and ACs helping.

Heavy freights and passenger trains were being handled in the normal way over the pass in early January 1953.

On January 4th, 1953, freshly serviced SP 3765 was assigned to the Mountain Work Train, and departed Bakersfield.

A few track related issues required operation of a work train starting around January 4th.  Ballasting operations continued on the 5th as the SP 3765 was turned at Summit at the end of the day for a planned trip back to Caliente with a full day's work.  The 3765 works for several days away from the engine house until it needs fuel and servicing.  Watering of the engine is not an issue with the regular water columns available at Caliente, Woodford, and Tehachapi.

Hand written instructions for the Mt. Work Train for ballasting and staging materials.

The KI Local working from Mojave is used to stage carloads of material near-by for the Mt Work Train to actually do the work with the Maintenance-of-Way crews.

Consist for Extra 3765 departing Tehacahai and instructions for unloading ties.

The Mt Work Train works during daylight hours, which means shorter work periods during the winter months.

Extra SP 3765 drifts out of Tunnel 10 at Walong on January 6th, 1953.

As the sun set on the Tehacahapi mountains, Extra 3765 arrived at Caliente and spent another couple of hours arranging the empty ballast hoppers and other cars at Caliente for the local and the Mojave Shorts West to pick up on the 7th.  By 8:01PM the Mt. Work Train had tied up for the night.

Trouble Afoot

It's late in the evening of January 6th, 1953 as the First 808, a third class train pounds through Caliente and resumes the climb up Tehachapi Pass.  A powerful AC-7 class cab-forward, SP 4171 leads First 808 tonight with the VME-6 symbol hauling express reefers and returning "Overnight" boxcars to Los Angeles.

First 808 with SP 4171 pulling the express VME "Overnight" train at Allard

The first sign of trouble comes with a call to the Dispatcher by the head brakeman of First 808 at Bealville.  The 4171 is having trouble and can't pull the 16 car train out of Caliente.  This is strange, as the 4171 is rated for 17 cars out of Caliente to Tehachapi Summit.  They inform the Dispatcher that they're flagging backwards down into Allard siding and will wait for rescue.

The Dispatcher contacts the Chief Dispatcher to arrange a helper for First 808.  The Chief knows the Work Train's engine, 3765, is still at Caliente and suggests that the Dispatcher hold No.56, the Mail, and have SP 3765 coupled to the front to get to Allard where First 808 will be waiting.

The action really kicks off at Caliente as No.56 arrives.

The Dispatcher gets back to his desk just as speaker announces "Caliente, coming East."  That's No.56 approaching.  The Dispatcher orders No.56 to be held and to get the crew back from beans and on the 3765.

The crew on 3765 backs out and onto the main track.

Train No.56 already has an AC-class and GS-6 helper 4462 on the point.  The 3765 will make it a "Triple Header"!  You know there's got to be some rules being bent at this point.

Coupling up nose-to-nose - A triple header!

There's no wye at Caliente to turn the 3765 for the eastward movement.  It will have to back up the hill, coupled on the front of No.56.  The F-5 class "Decks" have a speed restriction of 30MPH while running in reverse.  Thankfully, the whole run from Caliente to Summit will be made at less than 30MPH.

Clear Board! Ready to go, like a heard of elephants!

The crew of 3765 works a light throttle leading the Mail train up the hill.  I was able to get a video clip as the triple-header rounded the curve at Caliente.

Meanwhile up at Allard, the 4171 is back in the siding.  After a few minutes the triple-headed No.56 pulls up beside the 4171.

SP 3765 cuts away...

... and moves east of the cross-over.

No.56 waits a few minutes next to 4171

A close quarters 3-way meet at Allard.

On The Move Again

First 808's head brakeman 'lines the crossover back to the main track and No.56 blasts out of Allard.

Coupled and ready to go again.

Once the 3765 and 4171 are coupled up and ready to go, they resume the trip to Summit.  Second 808 is just reaching Caliente as the First section gets underway again, still several miles ahead.

High ball!

No problems here. --- Just another day on the railroad.  --- The weird stuff started later... but that's not a operations related story.

Jason Hill


This is an example of how operating sessions have their own problems that aren't planned, and the various people in the positions normally ignored in operating scheme planning are actually some of the more challenging jobs.  Why be a layout owner, when you could be the Chief Dispatcher?  The 'behind the scenes' people are the ones that solve the problems and keep the action on the railroad realistic.  

The SP 4171 is rated to handle the train, the Chief had a sneaking suspicion that he should have 'helped it' with another engine.  It turns out that the cause of the stalling was that one of the cars is a track cleaning car, which should rate at about three standard car tonnages, not one, which put the train over tonnage.  This drama wasn't planned, but it makes a great story to tell.  And sometimes those are the best kinds!

Related Articles

Busy Times at Bakersfield (Part 1)

Busy Times at Bakersfield (Part 2)

A Trip Over Tehachapi on the SCX-BI