Monday, December 14, 2020

The Port Costa Roundhouse Mockup

I usually build mockups of structures I am going to build. In this case I purchased the HO Banta Models Port Costa 2 stall Round House kit last year. I have not started the kit but have used all the components, plans etc. to construct a mockup of the building so I will know what it will look like in place before I commit to the long process of building the actual kit. 

This is the 1956 color slide from the CCCHS collection which shows the roundhouse in the final year of steam.

This building and the availability of the kit is what sealed my choice of prototype last year. It is the central focus of the layout. I have yet to finalize the turntable, build the final station building, get serious about the landscape and finalize the trackage so this mockup starts the ball rolling for all those pieces of the project.  I can now have a good sense or what the layout will look like and the operational dimensions for moving engines in and out of the service bays and storage sidings.

This is the mockup with paper windows from scans of the kit parts as neither Tichy or other windows makers had the matching twelve pane windows on the south side and east side of the building. Normally the building is viewed looking directly north or north east so the north side and east wall have not had paper windows added. Fortunately I had plastic tubing for the boiler smokestack which matched the size of the tubing supplied in the kit. It was sprayed matte black.  

The mockup is constructed from illustration board and craft paper.  I used Cracker Barrel Barn Red for the smoked red paint the building displayed in it's final years. This is the overall context view.
The area behind the round house needs a couple more buildings for the lubricant oil shed and the pumphouse for the fuel oil bunker sump. I also need to work out the piping coming from the sump. 

Now I have to get on with decisions about the turntable which brings up a conundrum. Ron Plies sent me copies of Herman Darr's drawings of the PC roundhouse when I started this project. Those drawings indicate the building was 75 feet in length. The Banta kit building scales to an 80' length. I know the people who pushed for the kit wanted to use it with the Diamond 75 foot turntable which was then available in the late 1990's. However, most authorities indicate Port Costa had a 70 foot turntable not a 75 foot.  The Banta site plot in the instructions shows the 75 foot table and a 61 foot distance between the end of the turntable and the roundhouse doors and an 8.164 degree angle between the round house tracks.  Darr's drawing notes an angle of 10 degrees and only a 42 foot distance between the turntable and roundhouse door.  Prototype photos of the area do not answer the question as they from across the turntable and foreshorten the distances. To top off the conundrum Darr's turntable is 75 feet.  I am still at a point where I can lengthen the turntable. But I doubt I could modify the Banta kit to Darr's dimensions and angle of the tracks.

September 22, 2020
I have played around with the idea of the 75 foot turntable and have decided that it is the way I will have to go. As I said above it would be difficult to modify the Banta kit to match the shorter turntable. I tried several ideas but finally gave in an decided to mock in a 75 foot turntable. There needed to be a lot of track adjustments particularly to the west turntable approach track. After several hours of cutting and adjusting locations, this is the result.

December 14, 2020

I thought I had written this blog post but it turns out I never posted it.

The past few days I decided the roundhouse mock up needed a few features added. 

There were large vent stacks located where an engines smokestack would be on the roundhouse tracks below on the rear section of the roof. . Strangely they were painted white I first tried modeling these with scraps of illustration board, but the result was not satisfactory so I switched to scraps of sheet plastic.  Photos taken from the hillside east of the roundhouse show black colored mounting pieces that matched the slope of the roof so the rectangular vents. I finally put together the vent stacks and mounts. They were too unnatural in pure white plastic so I used a Tamiya "smoke" wash to give them a little weathering.

There were louvered vent panels on the cupola on the shown on the picture at the start of this post. I grew tired of the unadorned look of the plain front of the cupola and decided to try and improve this view. I first tried an old trick of taking a photo of the front of the roundhouse and cropping the photo to just the vents and creating an image that would print in the size of the vent area. I use the Irfanview freeware to modify the photo as has settings to allow metric print dimensions.  I pasted the result on the front of the cupola structure but was not really happy with it. 

I rummaged through my stash of plastic sheet material and found an unused sheet of N scale clapboard siding. The clapboard siding spacing was an acceptable mockup of the louvered vent panels. Using several different strip sizes I created the framing and glued the full panel together on a piece of .15 sheet.  Note that the louvers on the panels on the left were 5 feet long and the ones on the right were 6 feet long.  

I primed and then brush painted the whole piece in Tamiya XF-84 Dark Iron. After the paint dried, it came out glossy and it took several coats of dull coat to matte it down. It was still to glossy for me so I used dark coal dust weathering powder rubbed into the louvers to get even less sheen. 

I am still working on the mockup as I have no real energy and commitment to tackle the real Banta kit. I expect it may be a year of so and after I build the turntable before I feel the urge to build the kit.

I am turning my attention now to the west side of the turntable and building the water crane and poles that supported the sanding pipes to the engine service area to the north of the station.  

All this while waiting for USPS to unclog itself and deliver decals for a C&NW gondola I am working on.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Smoky Time Modeling and My Steam Era Cabooses

Living in a smoke house is not fun. The HVAC is running almost constantly to filter the air indoors.  I try to avoid projects that will emit any noxious vapors to compound the damage to my lungs.

This past week I have been working on a caboose project that had its roots in the early 1980's on my HO SP turn at running the Oregon, California and Eastern. That layout was converted in late 1985 into a British Railways fictional station named St. Stephens set in the mid 1950's in Cheltenham, Gloucester after an extended visit to the UK culminating in an extended stay with my cousin Carol who lives near there and visits with here mother nearby. That lasted until 1993 when on the heels of a divorce I moved to Walnut Creek. Anyway the cupola and end platforms were finally used to build a 3 foot distance model of an SP C-30-1 as rebuilt with AB brakes and a straight sided cuplola. 

My notes on the rebuild are as follows:

The 756 number chosen by looking at similar rebuilds. The model is sort of unique or inaccurate in that tool box not removed in rebuild. The tool box was scratch built from Evergreen shapes and siding sheet. The sides are scratch-built. I started on those in 1980's. I re-cut them from new Evergreen Car siding in May-June 2020 based on accurate drawings and photos from Thompsons SP Freight Cars Volume 2, SP Cabooses and a laser cut wood AMB kit which is still not completed for a C-30-1 rebuilt caboose. 

The side windows are Tichy 8206 Work Car Windows with Glazing. The 4 pane muntins have been removed. Tichy's plastic glazing was used held in place with canopy glue for the side windows.  PSC Brass Caboose Windows with bars and scratch built 2' narrow doors were used for the ends. The end windows and doors have not been glazed.  May I'll do that later. The cupola is two cupola's from MDC/Roundhouse WP caboose kit spliced for additional length. Cupola glazing is from Tichy Work Caboose set. The end platform and steps are also from an 1980's MDC/Roundhouse WP caboose kit.

For ladders I used Athearn Caboose windows flat stamping as a stand-in bent to SP shape until something better comes along. A lot of angst and attempts to bend brass bar stock and drill for ladder rungs. Also attempts at finding a 3 D print. Have approached several sources for possible etch for styles as I have copies of the SP drawings. The real ladders are two parts with the top above the end rail and bottom below the end rail joined by bolts through the flattened end railing. 

For the brake gear,  only major components were modeled. I have a partial diagram of AB application for C-30-1 or C-30-3 rebuilds. Only found one photo showing rebuilt brake gear from side.  I gave up on doing full brake rigging. I wound up using a Tichy cylinder and triple valve. I initially tried to use a larger Kadwell (3D print) reservoir but it didn't didn't adhere with Zap plastic glue and so replaced it with a slightly smaller reservoir from Tichy  8013 AB brake set. I used Tichy brake wheels and a part of the gear under the end of the rear platform. 

For trucks I used Walthers friction bearing leaf spring. I am still looking for plastic Andrews leaf spring trucks. For couplers my now standerd Kadee 158 in Kadee narrow boxes were installed.

The smoke jack is scratch from Evergreen Plastics tube shapes. Supporting guy wires may be added if I am in the mood.  The underframe and floor is scratch built  as are all end railings which were scratch built from SP C-30-1 appliance drawings from the CSRM that were posted along with the ladder drawings on the site a couple of months ago.  The handrails were bent based using the  AMB SP C-30-1  Caboose kit bending jig. 

As I have to work indoors for paint I use SP BCR Red Vallejo MC 70-814 Burnt Red which I find makes a very good darker maroon version of the SP freight car red found on cabooses.  The roof is Tamiya Dark Iron.  In the photo below you will see the ends of the end handrails and curved handrails have been painted white.

For decals I have used the excellent Protocraft HO SP C-30-1 set which matches SPH&TS SP Freight Lettering Diagrams book. I sealed the burnt red during very quick visits to my outside deck so I could use a spray can of Tamiya Clear Semi-Glosa on the overall body before adding the glazing. I then brushed on J&J Clear/Pledge Future (whatever J&J marketing calls it this year)on top of Vallejo paint for area of the decals. I made another quick trip outside on the deck to seal the decals with spray can Tamiya Clear Matte. 

This is the current active caboose lineup. Port Costa always seems in photos to have quite a few SP C-30-whatever cabooses on sidings for use on local switching runs. Cabooses were used even though they were technically within yard limits which stretched for miles between Oleum and across the Carquinez bridge to Benicia. 

The first two cabooses on the left are somewhat battered Walthers C-30-1's  that are over 15 years old and were built from the first Walthers kit issue. They need replacement ladders and a lot of other fix ups. Next comes #756 as described above and then another of the 1980's scratch builds which is unlettered and has a lot of dimensional errors. It more resembles one of the earlier CA cabooses.  

The cabooses in the photo above are on one of the unconnected west end staging tracks which are 3 feet long pieces of flex track. The week before labor day I worked on the trackage in that area which has connected storage tracks for 16 40 foot car lengths and space for 2-3 unconnected pieces of track.  At the back of the 18 inch wide extension are the east and westbound SP main lines. The trackage in this area is subject to a lot of changes as I build the mainlines around the corner bend to run at the rear of the main vignette of Port Costa.  

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Recent Port Costa-Layout Improvements and Rolling Stock Projects

August has come and gone...and I am still in enforced hibernation with no end in sight before 2021. But I have been puttering about on the layout and other projects. 

The landscape of the layout is still somewhat impressionistic/surreal rather than realistic. But for the time I am content with that. Since the discovery of the inexpensive colored 2 mm thick foam sheet material at Michael's I have been working on what the shape and texture of this miniature world.   

I have completed one freight car project, a Proto 2K ACF Type 21 8,000 gal. tank car for SCCX leasing with the Shell herald. The Shell refinery in Martinez was one of the major destinations for tank cars passing through the Port Costa yard. The refinery was sold to Marathon Oil (26 mpg?) and is now in the process of shutting down permanently as demand for petroleum products falls due to many factors.  It needs weathering as does much of my recent tank car fleet. The three SP O-50-13's I am building are still in the paused projects pile along with the Tangent GA 1917 8,000 tank car kit build. Oil was king in the early 1950's and my personal perspectives do not hamper modeling it. 

Another August project nearly completed is the final Port Costa freight house. The mockup has been reused as the water treatment building between the large section house and the huge water tank on the hill.  I originally thought this was only 30' in length but when I received the 1930 SP Port Costa relocation plan drawing, I realized it was a full 41' in length. I rebuilt an extended model and constructed a shingle roof. The only structural component missing is the finial which I am still agonizing about.  I decided to paint the structure and tried Vallejo Model Color 70.976 Buff (I like the Spanish name "Amarillo Caqui") as an adequate shade of Colonial Yellow for my sight. As I would lighten any version of Colonial yellow to look better under indoor lighting conditions and as most color photo's show it tended to lighten under the harsh California sun, this works for me. Also it worked straight from the bottle without any mixing. This was hand brushed and showed that this self-leveling paint again produces a finish as good as an air brush. Besides, the SP brushed on their paint. 

Similarly for the SP Light Brown Trim I used Vallejo Marron Claro 70.929 (Light Brown) again straight from the bottle.  For first version of the paint I painted all the vertical trim pieces in light brown. But a little further research and discovery of an SP 1950's painting standard that specified limited trim was to be painted made me question whether all that trim was brown. I checked and found a 1948 dated picture of the Port Costa station building that showed by then vertical trim was already painted Colonial Yellow.I therefore repainted all the trim into Colonial yellow. This also covered up a lot of wobbly brush lines on trim pieces.  

This is the Contra Costa County Historical Society photo of the freight house platform. Note the problematic tall finial at the end of the roof. 
Notice how the color of light brown doors shifts depending on whether it is seen in sun or shade in this picture.  I have a bunch of oil barrels waiting to finish this scene. Now all I need is the slightly rusty 1936 Dodge 4 door sedan to park in front of the rear freight door as shown in my CCCHS main reference photo. Unfortunately Sylvan does not make this exact model. It may have to be a 1935 Plymouth sedan.

You will notice in the background of the layout picture above two of my other August projects. I have built a mockup of the iconic Port Costa roundhouse based on the Banta Model Works kit that I have yet to build.  It still needs to be painted barn red with black trim and roof and have photocopies of the windows added.  The Banta kit is a bit intimidating and I didn't want go much longer without the other principal structure of the layout.  I have some clearance problems for engines entering the roundhouse to resolve.

When I started the roundhouse mockup I used the dimensions on the photocopies of drawings by Herman Darr kindly provided by Ron Plies when I started this project.  The drawings showed the length of the roundhouse as 75 feet whereas the Banta model is 80 feet.  I have no way of knowing which is really correct.  I went with the Banta dimensions as modifying the kit would be a nightmare and life is too short.

This 1948 picture down Port Costa Main Street of an M-6 at the side of the roundhouse got me thinking about the two IHC M-4 engines I acquired a few years back for $19.98 each. Note the large  90-R-7 tender behind the M-6. My layout view omits Main Street so I don't have to spend a fortune buying and a lifetime building all the automobiles in the picture. If you visit Port Costa all the buildings lining Main Street in the picture are still there.

One the IHC Moguls is in pieces at the moment but the other was still intact but currently inoperable as it requires DCC decoder installation.  I have not yet decided on a number but did a little repainting and it is now poised on one of the garden tracks.

The model came with a 70-R-? tender that I am rebuilding. As an alternative I found a Bachmann switcher Vanderbilt tender that may be a close stand-in to a 70-C tender.  The 70-R-? tender rebuild may wait for an Owl Mountain 3 D printed oil bunker for 90-R-7 tender conversions.  Also that grossly oversize headlight on the locomotive will have to go and the boiler front rebuilt.  This engine will only get a temporary non-sound DCC decoder as it will probably be the test bed for the LocoFi steam WiFi receiver when it becomes available.  I may re-motor the other IHC Mogul that is in pieces before it joins my plastic SP steam stud. 

Other projects are afoot as well. The mockup for the Section House and other buildings on the hill behind the station need more work as does the terrain of the area.  I have a tree kit to further forest the area.  After painting the freight house. I  need to paint the sand house in barn red with black trim and roof and make better stand-in mockups for smaller buildings. I also need to work on the unique water crane to accompany the oil crane on the engine service track....and then there is the water tank, ballasting more trackwork and the turntable... so much to do.

Photo's in this blog have been reduced in size to help anyone with low bandwidth read the blog. Clicking on the photo will show the full size. 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

July Port Costa Station Area Mockup Progress

This is the current status of the mockup of the Port Costa station, water tank and water treatment building area of the layout. The area is on the side of a hill rising sharply from the track level.  Basically it is the western half of the layout.  I have spent a lot of time in  detail analyzing of the photos in the Robinson and Crane Arcadia Port Costa book. I had no clear 1940's-50's images of the water treatment building behind the station. I originally was going to copy Ron Pries version from his Port Costa module.  This time I looked closely at older 1905 photo's before the station was moved after the 1930 bridge over Carquinez strait. They showed a lot of the building that was never pictured in later photos. It was apparently one building not two separate buildings.  The water treatment building was not razed until after the station. The smaller structure behind it was destroyed in 1962 by burning as a practice for the local fire department.

The ground cover is an inexpensive 2 mm thick foam material I found at Micheal's craft store. I have been playing around trying to get the ground elevations right. It is all a work in progress.

I have added two JTT Live Oaks to the tree canopy that surround the water tank and area west of the water treatment building. I need to find a better small tree to go at the east end of the water treatment building.

The freight house building has been completed except for the roof which is a mockup in the above picture. The final roof is waiting for me to buy, build or design and 3D print the distinctive finials for the end of the roof.  The extended overhang over the open freight platform is correct. I found this photo in the CCCHS collection which shows the overhang and finial:

I have a bunch of oil drums painted up to go on the platform towards the final 

Like the sand house behind in the overall mockup picture, it needs to be primed and painted.

Jason Hill's recent blog on company freight has reminded me that the freight house at Port Costa was probably used primarily for company freight in the 1950's. Also the building at the end of the track in front of the station and freight house would have been a receiving platform and storehouse for materials used in locomotive maintenance in the roundhouse. 

I have a ton of freight car kits that I want to complete or build. The tank car and caboose projects are lagging. I also have the LocoFi F7 ABBA experiment awaiting further work. And Jason has indicated the Owl Mountain conversion parts for the Bachmann 2-8-0 are coming soon so more work ahead.  My currently active Bachmann 2-8-0 is disguised as an early transplant of an SSW locomotive with a fictional number. I have another dismantle Bachmann 2-8-0 ready to receive the new cylinders and drive rods, dome modifications and all else to make it into a close to a C-11 foobie.  I have two IHC 2-6-90's  also awaiting conversion into usable SP steam locomotives. 

It is certainly keeping me well amused and out of bars, restaurants and generally off the streets in these dangerous pandemic and pestilent times.  

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Another July 2020 Update

I am having some problems with the LocoFi and WiFi setup so letting it rest for a week. I may need to get an inexpensive Amazon Fire tablet to connect only with the 2.4 GHZ band on my dual band router to resolve configuration issues and progress. The loco does show up on my house WiFi network map when powered by my NCE PowerCab on the programming track.

In the meantime I have been mocking up scenery around the depot and freight house.  (And I have completed the freight house build but am now concerned that either size is incorrect or the side freight doors are incorrectly placed.) I completed a mockup of the water treatment building behind the freight house and used the old freight house mockup to stand in place for the building to the west of the water treatment building.
The cardboard mockup is at the center left of the picture. It's dimensions have been estimated from one 1956 photo from the hill to the east of Port Costa and the Ron Plies pictures including his model. The raised cupola on the building should be only 3 feet above the sloped roof. The old mockup of the freight station is behind. The small fruited tree was the only one I had in my collection and is a complete stand-in. 

Another development is the tan ground cover that is the beginning of the scenic treatment of the layout.  This is a new idea of mine that started when I was making a test track to see how Joe Fugate of MRH's Zip Ballast method could be used for track buried in the dirt up to the top of the ties. All of Port Costa's yard has the track buried level with the ground except the SP main lines in the background.  This is what I published in MRH.  (

I have managed to assemble the components and try this on a short test track.  As the majority of the trackage on my little layout is sidings and yards.  The top of the ties are level with the surrounding ground area.  To simulate this, the track is first glued to Woodland Scenics HO roadbed foam sheet.  In the past, when I was using Code 100 track, I could use the N scale version of the roadbed foam to bring the surrounding ground level up to the top of the ties. However, this is Peco Code 83 flex track and the ties are only 2 mm high. I found a 2 mm thick foam sheet product Creatology at a Michael's Craft store. It neatly comes up to the tie level and even comes in a tan color shown above on the left and takes acrylic craft paint shown on the right.  The Woodland Scenics Foam Glue was used to attach the scenic foam to the roadbed layer.

I found the Ballast Bond works okay.  I am not ecstatic yet.  It takes some manicuring after it dries to get stray ballast under control (I am using WS nutshell N scale ballast and the tan matches closely the Creatology tan foam sheet.) The Proses/Bachmann ballast spreader may work okay for mainlines and was fine for the initial layer of ballast but I found it flimsy and difficult to control as the lever is only good for on/off not volume of ballast  control. 

I couldn't find a clear squeeze bottle like Joe used around the house so I mixed small amounts of the Ballast Bond with 91% IPA in the small white container (from a TSA pack at Target). For application I tried the three tools to the right. The middle tool was good for the initial flooding of the glue/IPA solution. I used the Monoject tool at the bottom for follow up and a second application of ballast after the first had dried to level up and fill in to the Creatology foam.  I did find some cratering if I used any tiny amount of force to expel the glue/IPA mixture onto the ballast.  The tiny glue applicator required too much force expelling the glue/IPA mixture causing it to go where I didn't want it. 

For adding additional ballast to bring the level to match the ground foam, I used the small TSA container with black top.  It allowed me to just add a few grains to fill in.  

The small plastic tray under the experiment was used to catch loose ballast after a 2 hour drying period.

he ground area of the yard area I model looks more like the grayed yellowish acrylic paint to the right in a bright California sun. I live in and model a sunburnt land where lighter bright colors contrast with the dark green of coastal oaks.  The ballast should be that color too. Ties in the yard trackage need to be weathered to a light silvered gray as well.

Your mileage may vary (YMMV) but this has been my initial experience with the zip ballasting. I am looking forward to Joe's article on a cheap method of making scale ballast with the right colors. 

FYI: the Creatology foam sheet is 12" X 18" for 99 cents a piece at Michael's.  It is flexible so will adapt to terrain if needed.

Joe Fugate's Zip Ballast video can be seen here:

I bought 5 sheets of the Creatology foam and started to use the rest of the sheet cut up for the ballast experiment as the start of a ground cover for the layout. As the text above shows I am going to paint the tan a much lighter sand color to represent the look of the ground cover at Port Costa in the usual bright California sun. 


Monday, July 13, 2020

It's July 2020 Already

I have been deep in multiple projects over the last two months and not said much about anything on this blog. 

Fine tuning of the track locations has recently become more pressing as I need to get the track finalized. The major plan is not changing, just moving track a few millimetres here and there.  

The picture is from my 780 P resolution  zoom camera mounted on my tripod looking across past the final version of the freight house just completed but not painted. 2870, an ex SSW locomotive sits in what will be one of the two roundhouse stalls. Beyond are mockups of the engine service outbuildings and a grounded wood sided passenger coach-baggage. At far right are buildings representing the small company stores warehouse at the end of the freight house track. Lumber is stacked there for pickup by a local lumber consignee.  

Nothing is really completed.  The garden tracks from the turntable and other trackage need to be buried in the ground. The freight station needs painting and the platform needs to be completed. The tree is from the old Padstow layout stationmaster's garden that was never completed. 

But the view represents a milestone of sorts as about a year ago I completed the benchwork. 

I am now in the midst of a technical project to set up a LocoFi WiFi controlled F7 A-B-A set that will run on the east-west SP main through Port Costa. There are a bunch of continuing tank car projects including the 3 SP O-50-13's I started a few months ago, A new Tangent tank car kit and acquisition of several additional tank cars that would used to service the Shell, Associated-Tidewater and Unocal refineries nearby.

I have been in a lot of zoom meetings and video conventions which take up time but also give me lots of new ideas. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

What Have I done under Shelter in Place for April

During the shelter in place, I have worked at times on the Port Costa layout making some progress but still not finalizing the most important issue: the finalization and  siting of the turntable. 

The mock-ups and preliminary siting of all outbuildings behind the roundhouse (I keep wanting to call it the engine shed) have taken some of the time. This is the current as of the end of April 2020 view of the illustration board structures with photocopy windows pasted on.

I don't have positive identification for most of the buildings.  The first building behind the roundhouse with a cupola was definitely the blacksmith shop. The cupola would be over the forge to vent the heat and gases. The row of buildings behind are parts storage and mess facilities including the grounded boxcar and what I believe was a clerestory combine. I am using a MDC Palace combine shell for the grounded car. It is 78' long and from what I would guess from photos should be shorter.  A grounded double sheathed 36 foot box car is also in the collection. One of the photos indicates it had windows cut in it similar to a work car. This is currently represented by an Accurail 36 foot 14 xx series car.

On the far right is the small freight shed with loading platform at the end of the track going in front of what I think was an SP company freight facility. This is an old wood kit I had from the 1980's layout at my house in San Francisco. The lumber stacks are from Owl Mountain and give the siding some purpose.

The two small outbuildings in colonial yellow to the left are sections houses standing in for the barn red buildings for what I think is the lubricant storage shed and further back the control and pump house for the bunker fuel sump represented by a piece of grey cardboard at the moment.  There was a short siding behind it for unloading SP tank cars with bunker oil and later diesel fuel. 

The track in the background curves the wrong way as it should run parallel to the EB/WB Western Division main towards Martinez. Part of my space compromise is that this represents the start of the Mococo line or the San Ramon branch.  It will extend as a staging track over my workbench for now.

This is the freight station with mock-ups for the freight station and freight house. The turntable has been re-sited and trackage reconfigured. The sand house has not had any more work since I replaced the end walls to give the roof a more correct pitch. 

I have purchased  a LifeLike gas storage tank as it had the largest diameter of any readily available tanks to represent the water tank peeking through the trees on the left and visible on the hill if you enlarge in the mirror image behind.  It is being held together by duck tape at the moment. The tank is however only 35 feet in diameter, not the prototype's 41 feet in diameter. It looks ok to me as when I mocked up the full size tank it looked a little out of place. 

That's all for now. I will try to do a little more and finish the immediate in progress projects on my work bench including a Lasercraft rebuild C-30-1 caboose with rectangular cupola, the 3 O-50-13 tank cars, some new Owl Mountain F-50 flats and whatever else meets my fancy.

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