Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Tanks for the Memories - Part 2

There isn't much about my recent tank car craze.  I had prepared two bodies with the heightened domes and started work on the handrails. I have a third Athearn car awaiting surgery.  

I had to wait for an eBay order of PSC stanchions to arrive. When the brass stanchions arrived, I then found them very difficult to drill out for #15 wire. I have the sides of one tank finished but have not been able to get the end stanchions correct to my satisfaction.  I have small hypodermic tube on hand so I am using the method of separate end handrails which is easier. 3 of the 4 end stanchions broke rather than respond to my at best mediocre skills in drilling them with # 79 drill bits. And I broke 3 drill bits in the process.

I have been somewhat discouraged and turned to other projects of which I have about 50 before returning to the tank cars. 

In this time of lock down due to the pandemic all I can say is in this gif sent to me by my friend Eric:

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Tanks for the Memories - Part 1

Yesterday (2/19/20) afternoon during my weekly visit to my local hobby shop (LHS) Just Trains in Concord, California, I spotted the on the used and abused consignment shelves the HO upper tank casting of an Athearn single dome tank car for $1.00. On another shelf was a very old Blue Box #1501, the triple dome tank car.  Assembled but complete. I had been thinking about kitbashing the SP O-50-13 just recently when I dug out all my tank cars and found my one Athearn single dome tank. So here was the kitbashing opportunity to actually build a Tony Thompson conversion to the common SP 12,500 gallon class O-50-13 car. 

I dove right into it carving a dome off the 3 dome and following TT's instructions documented in his Modeling the SP blog and the SPH&TS Trainline #71 article ran into the first problem of not having done this before. It took a the rest of the afternoon before I gave up trying to get a smooth join for the dome top from the 3-dome car attached and blended with a smooth joint onto the single dome casting.  I tried 4 times to get a smooth invisible joint using Tamiya putty for plastic. Each time I let it dry, sanded it and then shot it with Tamiya grey primer. I let that dry and then tried again to get a smooth invisible joint with more putty and sanding. Then spraying and starting over again. 

Today after shopping errands I started at it again. This time I dug out an old tube of Squadron Green putty and went over the dome joint line. After it dried I used a xacto blade to shave off as much putty as I could and sanded again. I use some ACE hardware 600 and 1000 grit paper to try and smooth is as much as possible and then shoot it again with the grey primer. 

Well this time the results look a bit better.  I have however lost any rivet detail that was on the Athearn casting.  I have some Archer resin rivet head sets on hand  including the Offset Tank Car double row rivets set to repair as needed. I also have a collection of Tichy tank car detail parts to use as well. 

These photos shows my progress on this project, the donor 3 dome and my existing Athearn SP tank car with the incorrect dome. Once I am done with this one the donor will give up another dome for conversion of the existing SP car and then I will try to find one more complete Athearn kit. 3 SP 12,500 gallon tank cars will be enough to fit in with all the smaller tank cars used to service the Martinez area refineries.

A lot more to do. Frame and brake modifications and then I still have to find black late 1940's style tank car decals, do all the railings and grabs. 

How old was the donor 3 dome car? The ladder was a metal stamping.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Going Nowhere Fast at Port Costa

I have no deadlines on the Port Costa layout and I just work on whatever catches my fancy at the moment.

The last couple of days I have been thinking about tank cars.  Port Costa was the engine terminal for servicing the series of refineries along the south shore of the Carquinez straits in the 1940's and 1950's. The small yard would have been used to sort and block deliveries of some of the empty tank cars to the Martinez refineries to the east as well as cars for the C&H sugar refinery at Crockett to the west. Loads would have been attached directly to pick-up freights westbound to Oakland or eastbound to rest of the SP world via the bridge at Martinez or the line to Tracy.  

Before the Ozol yard was built between Port Costa and Martinez the other small local yards were just east of Martinez station at Mococo where the SP mainline had a flyover junction climbing to the Benicia Bridge and the line to Tracy, Avon (Avon Calling?) with the San Ramon branch and then Port Chicago for the military sealift command.  

Anyway I rounded up all of my operable tank cars and put them on the layout for an inventory picture. 

Most are still undecorated foobies dating back to the 1970's or later. Only one is an SP Athearn O-50-13 with the dome not yet modified.  I need to acquire 2-3 more and fix the domes, brakes and walkways at least. Others include ancient Varney 10,000 gallon cars from the early 1980's that have Champ UTLX and GATX decals, Life Like Hong Kong clones of the Varney cars and a bashed Tyco car. I acquired 4 of the Walther's 2011 NMRA Convention insulated tank cars, one Tangent an some unidentified other tanks.  I would expect most tank cars at Port Costa would be UTLX to service the Union Oil refinery in Martinez. SP cars would not predominate and one would be used to deliver bunker oil to the heated sump storage facility behind the round house.  Ron Plies modeled this very well in his version of Port Costa.  I don't have the room in my more condensed version to do it the same justice but I will suggest the presence.  Interesting, but I understand coal was used for roundhouse steam generation up until the end of steam not the bunker oil which was used just for fueling locomotives.  

One of the slow downs is my desire to improve the trackage particularly at the west end of the turntable. I am experimenting with building a left-right pair of Central Valley #5 code 70 turnouts replace the Peco Code 83 wyes I currently have in place. This would allow a better replication of the actual track configuration. 
 CV Templates for revised configuration which will change both turntable approach and track in front of station. 
I am a little bit daunted by the CV turnouts and waiting for supplies to replace the plastic frogs and improve my soldering kit.  In all my 60+ years of model railroading I have never successfully built a turnout from kit or scratch. I want this trackage in Code 70 to emphasize the difference with the mainline. If the CV turnouts don't work out , I am looking at a pair of Micro Engineering yard turnouts for this trackage. 

Saturday, January 4, 2020

The Sand-house at Port Costa Part 1

I have become fascinated with the sand house/tool shed on the western approach track to the Port Costa turntable. Over the last few weeks I have been working on a representation in plastic. I do not have plans or even dimensions so I am working with estimations from some high resolution photo's provided by Bob Morris. I have estimated the basic dimensions as 35 foot length and 20 foot width. 
Photo from Bob Morris (

Note the water crane, sand lines and oil crane between the turntable approach and the engine service tracks.

The sand house/tool shed is a huge sandbox covered with the upper shed where I am guessing the sand pumping mechanism is housed to deliver it through overhead pipes to the west turntable approach track in front of the shed and the servicing track which is next track to the north. 

These are progress pix as of 2020-01-03 of the components of the sand box which are being built separately to allow better painting and easier rebuilding as I make mistakes.
This is how they go together without gluing.
The board and batten shed structure that fits atop the sandbox will be next.  I have estimated the height of the shed wall atop the sandbox as 10 feet and the apex of the end walls as 13.5 feet. 

If anyone has better information on dimensions please let me know at

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Steam Power on my Port Costa Layout - Epistle 1

Port Costa was one of the final outposts of steam on the Southern Pacific and the small 2-8-0 consolidations and 2-6-0 moguls lasted well into 1956. This is one of the primary reasons I chose this location to model. 

But good HO SP consolidation models are not easy for me to come by. New ones are very rare and cost over $1000. I am reluctant to buy older models I will have to paint and wire for DCC.   I was fortunate to find the locomotive numbered 2575 in a private sale at a reasonable price.  It is a Sunset model that had been professionally painted, DCC installed along with a Tsunami sound system.  I am not too keen on the sound and as I now have to wear a hearing aid in one ear and the other ear almost profoundly deaf, it is not my highest priority. It doesn't sound right so I resort to F8 to silence the locomotive.  The tender is still unlettered and after researching the C-9 series in "Southern Pacific Consolidation 2-8-0. Pictorial Album Series Volume 1"  I decided to renumber it 2568 as the running boards on that engine matched the model with a high step. 2575 had a lower stepped running board at the front running around the cylinder pipe. I would like the new C-9 or 10's to have Vanderbilt tenders. Interesting enough I spotted 2568 in an 1950 photo of Port Costa with a whaleback tender.

The Bachmann heavy Baldwin consolidation is an interesting story. I understand Bachmann based this 1990's model on an Illinois Central 1920's Baldwin prototype. There was a plan a while ago for Owl Mountain to produce 3 D printed slanted cylinders, valve gear and domes to match the common SP locomotive style which unfortunately did not go anywhere. I then found a picture of a series of Cotton Belt 2-8-0's transferred to the Coast and Western Division in 1956 to use up their remaining boiler time before being scrapped. These it turns out were almost identical to the Bachmann model with similar dome shape and positioning, cylinders and valve gear. The tenders were similar but with different heavier tender trucks. They were numbered 2861-67 on the Pacific Lines but lasted a only a few months before scrapping.  I had given the Bachmann model the open number 2870 and a fictional background as one of a pair of Oregon lumber company locomotives acquired by the SP in the late 1940's. I planned to add 2869 later. They were fictionally assigned class C-13, a class vacated by scrapped 19th century consolidations by the 1950's.  

But suppose 2869 and 2870 were purchased by the SP from the SSW/Cotton Belt about 1950 during their early dieselization for the specific purpose of adding muscle to the helpers needed to move very heavy eastbound trains up the grade east of Martinez to the Carquinez Strait/Benicia bridge and still fit on the turntable at Port Costa.  A not entirely implausible fiction. I no longer need to do the surgery. I am looking for a good deal on another soundless but DCC wired Bachmann Baldwin heavy 2-8-0. 

Both 2870 and 2568 need to be fitted with a keep alive so they can navigate Peco electrofrog turnouts without having to wire the turnout frog. The diesel switchers work fine through these turnouts. Oh for that glorious day to come of bluetooth/wifi dead rail and no reliance on track wiring for power or control.

I could do with at least 2-3 more C-9 and/or C-10 locomotives to populate the Port Costa ready tracks and roundhouse.  And I would love to add a pair of M-6 moguls (or an M-6 and M-9) to represent the engines used on the San Ramon branch line based at Port Costa. The station at Walnut Creek is still in my long range planning .

I have a pair of IHC 2-6-0's that are sort of representations of M-4's. But to my knowledge the M-4's were based at Fairfield and worked the very light Calistoga branch along with local switching.  The IHC moguls will take a lot of work to make into good robust working models. I had just started on one of them just before the ceiling collapse in February 2019 took my office/train room and caused me to scrap my old Padstow layout.  I had just worked a bit on a shorty Vanderbilt tender built from a  Bachmann sort of UP like switch engine before the deluge.

The only other SP steam power that may yet grace the turntable at Port Costa is a pair of MDC 4-6-0's that represent T-28 locomotives. I built these in the early 1980's and spent a lot of time removing cast on details and replacing them with brass castings. They never worked very well and will need a complete new approach to the chassis, drivers and everything else to bring them up to any level of working on a DCC layout.

Answer to "Is Rolling stock prototype accuracy relevant to you?"

This was a response to a topic titled " Is Rolling stock prototype accuracy relevant to you?" in the MRH forum.
The concept of  accuracy has changed for me over time. I used to buy anything that was labeled SP or UP or PFE without much care for accuracy. But this cycle in my modeling (each cycle seems to last about 10 years) I have caught the reasonable accuracy bug. I don't expect any RTR manufacturer to be 100% accurate. These days if I need the specific item to support my layout concept and equipment collection and can get within 90-95%, it is usually good enough for mass produced items. I also have to balance affordability with my desire for accuracy. And I sort of love the challenge of tinkering and the additional work to create a 95-99% accurate model. 
Understand that I like building models more than any other aspect of the hobby. My a-building layout will be more of an accurate if compressed diorama where I can display, photograph and occasionally run the models I build.  A little bit of switching now and then is always enjoyable. It's just I hate wiring with a passion.
I love the new trends in resin and plastic kits towards higher standards of accuracy. Historical societies (SP, NP, UP and others)  have sponsored special runs of items that are closer than anything mass produced. Resin kits such as from Yarmouth,  Resin Car Works and Westerfield have enabled a higher degree of accuracy but at a fairly high cost.  (If I compare the cost of the recent Rapido NP boxcar to a resin kit and factor in the additional materials I and time I contribute the RTR is much cheaper.)  Owl Mountain and similar small manufacturers have achieved incredible results by making plastic kits with great attention to replicating accurate detail. 
And recently I received a highly accurate South Eastern and Chatham Railway 10 ton RTR OO scale van (small box car) from the UK that had been semi-mass produced through an new 3D printing process that enabled a run of 800 items at a reasonable cost. Hopefully this technology will come to the US and find a mechanism to organize, fund the building and distribution of RTR or kit for the rarer or railroad specific items mass manufacturers would shun or promise and never deliver. Clubs  and historical societies doing a go fund me sort of project might work.
The quest for accuracy goes beyond rolling stock. Structures and the civil engineering of the track and operating fixtures needed for service of steam and diesel locomotives and maintenance of way need just as much effort as my PFE car collection. Right now I am trying to build the 70 foot manually operated shallow pit turntable that is the central object in the small layout's scene. I will have to organize more detailed searches in archives and photo collections to start in the new year. I have gone through any number of Tichy windows to get the closest size match for the freight and operations office/station (there is no scheduled stopping passenger service in the period I model). Freight house doors I have to build from scratch. I am fortunate that there is an accurate laser cut kit for the "roundhouse" or engine shed that I have purchased to build.
I fully realize there are those who do not share my passion. There are Lionel operators and prototype operators and those who like the fanciful and mythical. I occasionally go a bit mythical to justify equipment that would not have appeared in the time frame of my modeling. For others the 3 foot rule is good enough. I love prototyping structures for my layout made from paper board as fill ins until I can build the accurate model. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Structure Mockups

I like to mock up structures long before I get around to doing the detail buildings.  Sometimes it is a long time before I will get around to the detail construction but I really want something to give me a location and size.

So two important structures other than the roundhouse that I needed to visualize are the freight station and the enormous water tower/tank that loomed over the station and section house. Ron Pleis article in RMC indicated the water tank was 45 feet in diameter. However it was on a low wood platform (not steel) only about 14 feet high as it was also up a bit  on the slope of the hill to the west of downtown Port Costa.  The mock up is just some cardboard bent to form a 45 foot diameter tank. I covered it badly with black duct tape as it was on hand to give it the right coloration. It's mounted on blocks of wood and granite counter samples to approximate the height. I don't know if I will model the water treatment building(s?) behind the section house on some sort of angle where the very square corner of the two sections of the layout now join.

The backside of the freight station (the freight house is the smaller building next door) does not show up in most pictures of the station area. There was one tantalizing view from an angle in Ron's RMC article. Ron attributes the picture to Bob Morris, but Bob has indicated to me that he does not have that picture.  Because my layout is viewed looking north over the Carquinez Straits the backside of the station building will be highly visible. Anyway I analyzed that picture for window and door locations and made an assumption that the windows and doors were the same size as on the well documented track side. The mockup below is some cardboard covered with yellow frog masking tape with unpainted Tichy doors and windows tacked to it in the locations I guessed at. The freight door is scratch built and a test bed for SP freight freight house trim brown. The small 4 pane window is too large and will be replaced. 

Note: I recently found a picture of the backside of the station building on the Contra Costa County Historical website.  The backside of the building visible above will change shortly.