Saturday, May 29, 2021

Boxcar Fleet Fillers

Over the past year, InterMountain Railway Company (IMRC) returned several older models to the market in their Value-Line series.  These models were based on mold dies that have passed through a convoluted history involving LBF and E&C Shops.  The mold dies are basic and feature molded-on detail like grabs and ladders and often missed a distinctive feature of the prototype such as the prominent Hydracushion can located on the center of the center sill underneath the car.  In spite of die work that was old-school when it was first made, InterMountain updated important car features for their current Value-Line—trucks, wheelsets and couplers.


Several of the models in the IMRC Value-Line represent Southern Pacific/Cotton Belt prototypes of significance to my Oregon-based model railroad.  The wood chip gondolas have yet to make a reappearance, but already delivered are double plug-door boxcars representing cars from the SSW (Cotton Belt) B-70-42 and SP B-70-43 classes of paper-loading cars.  These are important fleet-fillers for my railroad in spite of the molded-on detail.


I needed to apply a couple of improvements to my cars before placing them in service.  First up was to represent the Hydracushion can on the underframe.  This was a prominent feature of Southern Pacific cars throughout the 1960s and into the 1980s.  Hydracushion was developed at Stanford Research Institute using funding largely supplied by the SP.  


Simple representation of the Hydracushion can on the boxcar underframe.


I found I could simply represent the Hydracushion can with a bit of Evergreeen styrene.  A ¼-inch square by 0.060 inch thick base had a center hole drilled in it for a 3/32-inch styrene tube, plugged with a 0.100-inch rod.  Although the Hydracushion can should be mounted in the center of the center sill, I accepted a slight offset to account for the brake lever molded there.  My simple mounting conveys the desired appearance without adding more work.


Evident in the photo of the car underside is that the car comes from IMRC with plain black plastic trucks.  I removed the trucks and then the wheelsets from those trucks.  Both the trucks and simplified Hydracushion can were painted using a rattle can of flat red primer—close to the car color.  


While I had the trucks and wheelsets off the car, I chose to do a quick weathering job using my airbrush.  I might have gone a bit heavy for these cars which were rebuilt and repainted in 1984, but they will fit well within the overall railroad scene.  With simple sprays of black, brown and gray weathering mixes (acrylic paint diluted with rubbing alcohol), the cars—especially the trucks and underbody—looked appropriately “grungy” for service.


Weathered cars in front of non-weathered cars ready for service.


Ground-level view of the new cars barely showing the Hydracushion can underneath the center-sills.


The final step was to make up new car cards.  These cars are ready to go to work!


This was a simple project, but one I have delayed doing on much of my car fleet as I built my railroad.  As always planned, I am now returning to the car fleet to improve appearances. 


Thursday, May 6, 2021


May Day was a BIG DAY on my railroad as we returned to “full” operations!  As vaccination opportunities opened up in March, many of my regular crew were successful in getting vaccinated.  With my own first shot in my arm, I surveyed my crew and quickly had the slightly reduced crew I wanted for this first session.  A base requirement was that all had to be vaccine-effective by May 1.  I had to turn down several who did not meet that requirement.  They understood and now are on the list for the next ops session.


My railroad is in a large, well-ventilated basement.  My aisles are large—by design.  The care I took to ensure good people flow for operators around my layout pays huge dividends in these trying pandemic times.  


Last summer and fall’s small group sessions experimented with eliminating the helper positions.  Road engineers had to handle two throttles from Oakridge to Cascade Summit (often on return, too) as they entrained their helpers at Oakridge and removed them at Cascade Summit.  This resulted in less people in the aisles for what became a full line-up of traffic on the railroad.  Similarly, the locals ran with a single crew-member—a job ordinarily done by two:  engineer and conductor.  The yard crew was kept to just three:  Yardmaster-switcher, Switcher, and Santa Clara Tower Operator (Arrival-Departure Yardmaster).  The crew was about ¾ of a normal “full crew” with all jobs essentially single-man.


Follow along with a few photos from the session.


Craig L. and Mark K. man the Eugene classification yard as Jeroen G. works a road freight through Springfield in the background.


John B. took the Santa Clara Tower job, managing the arrival and departure of the road freights.  Although John had not done this job before, he adapted well to the current yard operating plan.


Bill M. worked the Marcola Turn.


Joe B. works with a RR-West road freight at Cruzatte.  His train has taken siding as a meet is underway with a RR-East train.


Rodger C. works his RR-East road freight downhill on the main past the RR-West on the siding, as Joe B. waits for clear track to continue RR-West.


Jim L. brings a helper set down from Cascade Summit on the point of his RR-East train, crossing Salt Creek Trestle.  We tried to return helpers to Oakridge in this way, although we eventually did need to run two helper sets down light, but together.


Rick A. dispatched the session.


A couple of other crew members did not make it into photos, but definitely were there, running road freights and the Oakridge Turn.


After the session, I sought feedback.  A key piece was to bring back the helper engineers for the next session.  Although we did OK with the two-throttle operation last fall and for this session, the crew felt they were ready for the helper engineers.  The Eugene Yard complex also will receive a couple more switchers to help keep up with mainline traffic.


A day of friendly chatter doing something we enjoy resulted in lots of sparkling eyes.  Vaccinations and the larger than average aisle space on my railroad make it possible to return to operations.