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.