Welcome!   Use a browser to view the website's pages at right

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

A Couple of Aging Automobile Cars

With a robust car fleet in service, and all that forest still needing to be planted, the last thing I should be working on is more boxcars.

"But Mama - that's where the fun is!"
-- Manfred Mann / Bruce Springsteen

I can't help it - the variety and condition of aging cars that survived WWII is just mesmerizing.  My friend Jim Rollwage (UP-Denver Pacific) got me deeply hooked on the postwar freight car fleet, by sharing a book called, oddly enough, The Postwar Freight Car Fleet. (NMRA, 2006).

In this tome, we in the modern world are treated to a deep dive on the subject by an unknown railfan, who spent 1946 and '47 taking pictures in and around Harrisburg, Pa., of... freight cars.  Just...  freight cars.  Oh, my.  You might think you couldn't possibly care, that far down a rabbit hole, but you just... can't put it down.  It's a snapshot of a point in time in the classic era, and no two car classes are the same on different railroads!  

So I had a couple of oddball cars on hand that I'd wanted to maybe work into the fleet at some point...  Reading through this book I found credible examples of each, and the bug bit to get those into SNR paint.  It happens that they're both double-door cars originally built for automobile service, but that wasn't necessarily important.  What was important, was that they were wood.   They just don't build 'em like they used to, you know.


In 1921, the Railway placed an order for 850 USRA-design 40' double-sheathed cars, which became the 20xxx series.  That order also included another 100 double-door cars intended for automobile service - a class of specialized equipment then just in its infancy.  The auto cars were tacked onto the end of the series, in the 20900-20999 range.  

By the late 1930's, the automobiles rolling out of Detroit's factories had gotten long and fat, across the board.  The 40' boxcars designed to carry little Model T's just weren't suited to the trade anymore.   So most of the 209xx class were taken out of automobile service, and rebuilt for general merchandise.  Most received Dreadnaught steel ends in place of wood, and a power hand brake.  Steel roofwalks and/or Youngstown doors were also applied as needed, although our feature car was bypassed for those upgrades.  Repaintings included the large new solid herald, AAR-standard reporting marks, and sans the "Railway".  

Many railroads also removed the extraneous left door as part of their overhaul of such cars, but the thrifty Dutchmen in Suffolk found such an expense frivolous.  And by retaining their double doors, this class turned out to be ideal for handling the crated Jeeps pouring out of Toledo during WWII, headed for the Atlantic.  

This one is actually an old AHM ready-to-run car, complete with all the trainset accoutrements including truck-mounted horn-hook couplers, and garish, impossible paint.  

(And hey, how about those roller-bearing trucks, too!)  You might say "Jeese, why would you bother with such junk, when there are so many good cars out there?"  And you'd be right - except that: 
  1.  At its core, this is a fairly uncommon model of a not-so-uncommon prototype,
  2.  Bargain-hunting is all part of the fun (I picked this car up for 3 bucks!), 
  3.  I enjoy the challenge of adapting oddballs, and 
  4.  I had one of these cars as a teenager that I painted and decaled for Northern Pacific, so there's some nostalgia at work. 

What always bugged me most about the AHM cars, though, was that enormous, blank side sill under the doors.  Yes it was common to reinforce the sill on double-door cars, especially wooden ones, but not often to such a huge degree.  Some research in "the book" revealed an almost exact match for the car, with only a minor reinforcement under the doors:

I was thrilled to find this reference - the AHM car's proportions really favor it, once that huge sill is trimmed away.  And, it's sporting much newer Dreadnaught ends too, like the AHM.  Interestingly though, its original vertical-staff hand brake was retained in the rebuild, something rarely seen on new ends.  While I loves me some vertical brake staff, skiving off cast-on details from corrugations was way beyond 80/20 for our 3-buck model.  So we're saying the Suffolk shops upgraded the hand brake too.   

Ironically, I was already finished with the car and looking at pictures of it for this post, when I saw up close that foot-thick steel roofwalk and tree-limb-diameter stirrups.  You know that Clint Eastwood "Eeeuughgh" face?  Like when he's looking at carnage, usually of his own making?  

Yeah that.  So it was back to the workbench to un-finish the car.  I made a new running board, wooden this time, out of Evergreen strip, and replaced the cast stirrups with brass rod.  Still not perfect, but much better, I think.

I'm sure there's a beautiful resin kit out there for a similar car, which I'll enjoy building someday to replace this guy.  But there's a lot of forest I should really be working on first.


The larger car is from an order for 200 cars built in 1928.  SNR had assigned single-sheathed, steel-end cars to the 22xxx series starting in 1925, and this subclass claimed the 22600-22799 range. 

These cars were the cutting edge of auto-box technology at the time, with 10' 6" ceilings, fixed racks, and end doors - made for handling all those big, bourgeois touring cars roaring out of Detroit in the Roaring Twenties.  Model A's could still squeeze through the doors in the 40-footers, but your modern Packards, Cadillacs, and the like, needed newer, bigger accommodations.  

Like most such cars, SNR's retained their auto racks and end doors throughout WWII, and resumed automobile service when production returned to civilian vehicles.  Some even lived to carry cars with tailfins, although they were also regularly loaded with furniture, lumber, and all manner of non-automotive freight, too.  The SNR class received repaints in 1946-47, but few modifications.  

I remember being amazed when I first discovered these cars, as I had always associated exposed Z-bracing with short, low-ceiling, single-door cars like Train-Miniature's.  Who knew!  It was inevitable that the SNR would need an example or two.

Our feature car is an out-of-the box MDC model with SNR lettering.  Those models also have a big, unsightly sill reinforcement under the doors like the AHM did - which, as it turns out, none of the numerous prototype examples in "the book" have.  

I had intended to slice those sills down too, but MDC did a nice job integrating them into the frame, with full-depth cross members behind them, and rivet detail too.  I still might do the conversion one day, but it will be a bit more involved than the 10-minute hack job on the AHM.  For now, let's get it rolling!


Our new friends high-tail it for Suffolk on SM-8, amid a bevy of SNR boxcars from the 1920's.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Notice Cards

Regular SNR operators know that there is a switchlist posted at each town to guide a local crew's regular work.  

However for occasional random events such as flag stops, setting out a car going a different direction, business car moves, etc., I have relied on notes attached to a train order.  The regular train order directs you to consult the note at a certain step.  I have my traffic software generate the notes along with the switchlist. 

The downside of this, aside from all the CPA work (Cut, Paste, Assemble) - (I can say that, I'm a CPA) - is that, because the real estate on the orders is pretty limited, the notes are printed in a reeeeeeeallly tiny font.  (Getting pretty hard to read for all these old guys I operate with.)  😉

So due to both considerations, I've overhauled that process.  Microscopic "notes" have now been replaced by color-coded "Notice" cards, which are posted on the layout fascia, as near to the town's panel or depot as possible.  It's analogous to notices hooped up along with orders to train crews on the prototype, or bulletins posted at control points.  

Asterisks on the order now direct the crewman's attention to an external Notice at a specific location.  

Large fonts for the train symbol and big color blocks should make the Notice cards easy to identify at a distance.  Clipping them to the fascia should keep the crewman from having to juggle multiple documents with the train order, and eliminate the risk of them getting separated.  

The inscrutable note in 8pt Arial Narrow font, 
formerly stuck to the old PL-3 order, 
has been replaced with 
a clear and friendly Notice card on the fascia. 

The Notice cards are red, yellow, or green.  Red is for passenger train flag stops.  Yellow means pay attention because there is some special switching work to do.  Green means no action is required.  

Green is important because, just like a clear signal, green not only indicates that you can proceed, it also provides positive confirmation that you have indeed found the indication at the place where you were expecting to find an indication, so you're not left searching.  Every asterisked note on a train order will have a notice card on the fascia, in some color or other.     

Local passenger trains have scheduled stops at stations of any actual import, and flag stops (conditional) at places like Podunk and East Backwater.  So the bright red notice card functions as a station agent's flag at those locations. 

Even across Segway's congested alcove, 
Train 32's crewman should have no trouble seeing 
the bright red Notice card below the Hadley depot, 
telling him he needs to make a flag stop in that little hamlet today.

A side benefit to the scheme is the ability to at last remove the MoW equipment from the switchlist for Dominion.  No matter how many ways I've tried to handle this, it universally generates confusion, as to whether the switchlist indicates the cars that should be on the Materials Yard's siding, or the cars that should be in the MoW train.  

Now the Notice card unambiguously stipulates the moves.  
I printed up extra blank cards to accommodate random cars 
and future additions to the MoW fleet. 

It's my hope that this scheme will reduce confusion, eye strain, and setup time all at once, while still allowing me to "call an audible" - to deviate from the playbook occasionally, and keep the defense guessing.  It's also open-ended, allowing for future interesting wrinkles to be added pretty easily. 

So watch for asterisks on your next SNR train order, and look for a Notice card at a control point near you!

Thanks for reading.  Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms...

"I'll lay around this shack
'Til the mail train comes back, 
And I'll be rollin' in my sweet baby's arms."

-- Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs

SNR 4228 and 4200, two mail-express cars converted from WW2 troop sleepers, 
show off their new paint schemes.  

I've been fascinated by mail trains for a long time, with their typically mixed bag of equipment and color schemes, and being so iconic for the classic era.  The variety of colors came from being decorated in their roads' multiple passenger schemes, for use as head-end cars on name trains.  As passenger consists and standard liveries changed, cars with those snazzier paint jobs began to drift down into the nameless mail runs. 

One of the more interesting species in the mail phylum was the converted WW2-era troop sleeper.  These were basically 50' boxcars outfitted for military passenger service, built in quantity and on the cheap during the war.  But after de-mobilization they were surplussed - available for little above scrap value, despite having seen only a couple of years of use.  Riding on high-speed trucks and carrying passenger accoutrements including steam and electric lines, end doors, and diaphragms, they were ideally suited for conversion to bargain express equipment that could run with the fast-mails.

Walthers made a good model of these cars 15-ish years ago.  I grabbed several and painted them Pullman Green, such as #4212 above, since PG was the standard (only) SNR passenger scheme going at the time.  Just like life.  But once the fancier passenger schemes took shape on the SNR, I applied them to some of the mail equipment as well - also just like life - and in so doing, I developed a deep need to doll up a couple more of these troop sleeper conversions too.  It just took a while to finally make the time.

Here's a look at each of the two, along with a brief history of the livery.


Tidewater scheme (1934)

Number 4228 was one of several cars painted into the Tidewater scheme when the block was first acquired, in 1946.  
They were originally intended for head-end service on the Tidewater and other name trains.  

This livery dates to the SNR's first major order for lightweight streamlined cars.  In the mid-1930's - the age of Zoot and Art Deco - the Depression was beginning to ebb and it was time to re-equip the Cincinnati-to-Suffolk flagship train, which was still all heavyweights.  The new Tidewater's blue-with-orange-stripes scheme and art moderne font established the road's lasting color identity - long before the first diesels were on the property.   

Flanked by other mail equipment in the Tidewater scheme,
car 4228 heads west on mail-express #19 at Segway, Va.


Queen City scheme (1947)

The class leader #4200 was repainted from the green in 1951, 
for use on the Toledo train that connected with the Queen City at Jackson, O.

As with the C&O's Chessie, the SNR attempted to liven things up in the late 40's and spark a resurgence in passenger traffic with the introduction of an entirely new day train, the Queen City.  Cars for the all-coach Queen City comprised the railway's first order for stainless steel equipment, and so ushered in a new variant of the passenger scheme as well.  

This livery became the new standard for passenger car repaints, with Imitation Aluminum paint replacing actual stainless steel on conventional equipment, including mail cars.  As with "the Tidewater scheme", this became known as "the Queen City scheme" for the train that introduced it - or simply, "the Budd scheme".  

EMD's Art & Color Section actually developed the design in 1940 for the E6s, SNR's first order for passenger diesels.  That design incorporated the steam-era Tidewater's blue-with-orange-stripes uniform, but anticipated future orders for stainless equipment by adding silver lower side panels (not to mention a big silver bow wave on the shovel-nose diesels).  WW2 restrictions, however, meant years would pass before the first stainless cars could be delivered by Budd to match. 

Car 4200 rolls into the St. Amour Rail Terminal on mail-express #20 -  
trailing a pair of the E6s which had foreshadowed its paint scheme,
and ahead of a Budd baggage-mail car whose paint-on-stainless layout it mimics.   

I'm very pleased to be displacing a bit of the Pullman Green, and injecting a little more color and variety into the mail runs.  Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 29, 2022

Modernized FPS Box Car

I was driving through Segway, Va. the other day, and took a swing past Yaeger Yard on the SNR as I often try to do - and found this interesting item had shown up.

It's one of Forest Park Southern's venerable fleet of double-sheathed cars from the early 20's, yes, but this one looks like it has been to the spa.  It's been rebuilt recently, and kept its wooden sides, but that's about it - the FPS shops have treated it to new Dreadnaught ends, power hand brake, Youngstown doors, and a lacey new steel roofwalk, along with a fresh coat of paint.  

Judging by the weathering, I'm guessing the overhaul was done around '46 or '47, as were a lot of the wooden car rebuilds, once a little steel was available again.  

It's good to see this car was still solid enough to get a new lease on life.  A lot of those old 8' ceiling jobs just got beat to death during the war, and are getting scrapped outright.    

The Actual Story

Several months ago, good ol' Bill Doll (Forest Park Southern) gave me a Train-Miniature double-sheathed car with Dreadnaught ends and wood doors, lettered for FPS.  Since it was still in kit form, I asked him if he'd mind if I updated it a little bit.  

Most of the pre-war wood cars I've seen from the early 50s that were lucky enough to receive Dreadnaught ends during a rebuild, usually also had their wooden doors and running boards replaced.  Those would have been easy to do, and it's likely that the doors would have been just as beat as the original wooden or Murphy ends.  And the steel running boards would have been a general safety improvement, even if the wooden ones were still in decent shape.  

So this car received a pair of Tichy 6' Youngstown doors, which are 8½' tall but easily trimmed down to 8'.  I sliced down the enormous TM lower door guides as part of the door replacement.  The gossamer-thin open-grate roofwalk is from Kadee - which juuuuuust about fit.  Those TM cars are diminutive in every dimension, but by taking a small graft out of the center of the Kadee part, I was able to settle it in.

Fortunately the car was in standard Box Car Red, so I could touch up just the doors and roofwalk, and blend everything together with pastels.

I love having cars from friends' railroads running around the SNR, and I love variations on a standard to keep things interesting.  Bill's present gave me both - thanks, Bill!

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Alleghany Scrap

Alleghany Scrap Inc. is a dealer and processor of "previously enjoyed" ferrous material in St. Amour, W. Va.  They receive inbound scrap in gondolas and via truck, cutting the larger items to sizes required by the mills, and stockpiling the outbound product to take best advantage of market prices.  They also receive and dismantle rolling scrap, such as retired or wrecked locomotives and cars.**    

This is yet another project I have been ruminating over since the Reagan administration, that has always taken a back seat to more pressing matters, such as mainline ops and raising children.   

For 28 years the scrapyard in St. Amour has been an unsightly sector of bare homasote, with some piles of refuse and a SceneMaster crane on it, guarded by one 9" segment of corrugated roofing implying a fence.  A few years ago I went so far as to dig out all the dead steam locomotives from DC days that I could find, and set them on some loose track, to suggest a source for all the scrap that the yard loads out.  And I've been accumulating parts and chunks for the scrap heaps all the while, just waiting for motivation.  

But recently, after musing with my friend Darren Williamson (IHB) about how I've been wanting to have dead-in-tow engines show up in road trains and get delivered to the scrapyard, his enthusiasm for the idea finally lit a fuse.  Naturally the couple-of-weeks project has taken me 3 months, but I'm pleased to finally get Alleghany Scrap Inc. presentable.

The national steel strike in early '52 depressed scrap prices badly, and had Alleghany stockpiling material anywhere it would fit.  But with the strike now over, the firm is desperate to move tonnage before the heaps overwhelm the yard.

One of the limiting factors had been that I really wanted to have an overhead travelling crane running as much of the length of the yard as possible, but - I only had one of the Walthers kits on hand.  These kits have been so widely used, and out of stock for sooooo long, that there were virtually none of them for sale out in the ether. 

Enter to the rescue my friend John Miller (Kanawha & Lake Erie), who has, in the enormous outbuilding that houses his layout, at least three of everything.  John scraped together almost an entire kit from random bits for me, and further was kind enough to refuse payment.  Thanks again John!

So I was able to aggregate about 1½ Walthers cranes, and, use some of the extra uprights to construct trusses for horizonal stabilizers.  This was done both to capture an interesting design element, and stabilize the model.  They also provide useful interference to uncoupling operations for the St. Amour switch crew.  


Alleghany's tracked crane works to load a gondola from the "outbound" pile.  The crane is a basic Walthers SceneMaster item - but a little paint, weathering, glass, and foil for the treads gave it some "pop".  The electromagnet is from the spare Walthers overhead crane kit.

Derelict signs, gaslight lampposts, and channel cutoffs are just some of the items in the "inbound" pile, waiting to be cut into morsels suitable for the arc furnaces.

Scrap piled by the street gate, waiting to be reduced, includes sections of a wrecked Pullman, in SNR's Tidewater scheme.

Most railroads began dieselization with switchers.  So diminutive locomotives have begun to arrive in quantity at the salvage yard, as the railroads have become comfortable that internal combustion can handle the demands.

The cutting crew works on reducing a little saddle-tanker to tiny bits, as the travelling crane absconds with its cab roof.*** (There's probably an "I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight" joke in there somewhere with the Cutting Crew reference, but I'm letting it go.)   

Both cranes were supplied by a reputable local dealer, down the road from St. Amour in Flowing Springs, W. Va..  Legend has it that when the wisecracking owner of BILD-OLL was confronted with the irony of his "Build-All" cranes being used in a scrapping operation, he quipped, "Sorry, 'Wrecks-All' was already taken." **** 

First order of business for the scrapyard upgrade, oddly enough, was a new "proper" loading dock for the Combustioneer plant, which runs behind the fence.  Of course you can only see about 3% of it from the aisle, but I know it's there.

The St. Amour switcher ducks between the opposing gates to pull outbound loads - one bearing general small and cut scrap, and one from under the gantry comprising chunks of an old hopper.  No matter the source though, it's all headed for the furnace, to become beer cans, boat anchors, or Buicks.

The SNR dieselization program has begun to trickle down to subsidiary roads now.  Manifest freight SM-8 arrives in town towing a venerable Prairie-type locomotive from predecessor Cincinnati, Jackson & Gallipolis, the "Apple Hill Road".   The engine was dispatched from the former CJ&G's main terminal in Jackson, Ohio, eastbound via Gallipolis.  

Railroads often stenciled or chalked the destination on out-of-service rolling stock.  This is also done to avoid confounding the Yaeger yardmaster, since such vessels would not be on the switchlist.  

The tired old CJ&G locomotive's last ride comes to an end, as it's spotted on a "cut" track at Alleghany by the Della St. yard crew.  


** As a teenager I read the book The Twilight of Steam Locomotives by Ron Ziel about 400 times.  It contained a chapter on the scrapping process, which chronicled the death of an enormous CB&Q 2-10-4.  This both sickened and fascinated me, and left me with a lifelong need to model the industry.  An NMRA Bulletin article from the 1970's introduced me to the fact that towing retired steam engines to scrap was a routine part of revenue freight movements, and I've been itching for some time to include that aspect as well.  But I needed a functional, powered switch to the "cut" tracks first, which begat the whole project.

*** This little mini-scene predates everything.  I built it for a module, as a teenager in 1979.  I've updated it a little, but it keeps its original crudity, largely due to the Dockside having been given to me already broken and missing its cylinder saddle.  I always enjoyed the John Allen-esque display of the guts of an actual model engine, though, and the weight's shape makes a useful stand-in for a saddle tank too.  Sadly the cutoff bits from the tank, that had been glued to the module scene, went into the dumpster along with the rest of the modular layout when we abandoned it about 1990.   

**** BILD-OLL Cranes Inc. is named for my wisecracking friend, Bill Doll (Forest Park Southern).

 👉 Donations of dead steam engines 👈
for use as rolling scrap 
 👉 are now proudly accepted! 👈

If you have an old cheapie you'd like to see have a whole 'nother life, please email me.  
I've got a few in reserve, but the more variety the better.