No 174: Back to My Future

My work in Europe has come to an end and I’m now back in the U.S.—back to my future—where I will be working in the airlift headquarters at Scott AFB, Illinois.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Germany and given the opportunity I’d spend the rest of my life there. I enjoyed the people, the culture and the work. I was a member of a great church. I enjoyed a thriving hobby and railfanning life there. I raised my children there. It was the best thing I ever did for myself and my family. My outlook on everything has changed for the better.

Unfortunately, the moving process to get back to the U.S. was very stressful. Our last three months were spent packing, downsizing and giving away stuff, packing and sending off our household goods, selling and/or shipping cars, and doing a massive amount of administrative work. We were working days, nights and weekends to get everything done in time. I actually left a month later than planned because there was so much to do. To say it was a stressful move is an understatement.

I planned to quit modeling around April 1st, but continued to work on a few projects until April 15th and then closed up the workbench for good. I had big plans to take a week-long trip to England to get to a train show or two and railfan, but I was too busy to get away. Maybe next year.

Below. Here are some of the 20+ “train boxes” pre-packed for the movers. These boxes contain kits, some finished models, layout items, and track and electrical equipment. Most moving companies greatly appreciate when things are packed ahead of time, and normally they don’t bother going through it. Pre-packing also reduces chances of theft.

A major consideration during any move is shipment of rolling stock models. I packed my finished rolling stock models in flat, padded storage boxes, and then secured them in this cabinet which was locked and sealed with the movers present. Here’s our man wrapping up the cabinet for shipment. There are over 200 finished rolling stock models inside–I estimated about $15,000 to $20,000 in models inside.

In the U.S., movers usually fill a large truck with individual items, then take the truck back to a warehouse, download it, and re-pack it more efficiently. Your stuff mysteriously disappears after everything is downloaded and before it is repacked. I moved 11 times in the U.S. and to alleviate theft I always hauled a rented trailer with my computers, valuables, a bed, and my rolling stock. That way I could keep my eye on our high-value items–plus have a place to sleep when I got to my destination.

There’s a better moving system in Europe. In Germany the movers pack your household goods into crates and seal them in front of you. The crates are loaded into containers and forwarded to the U.S. on container ships. If the crates arrive at the final destination open, with the seal broken, then the movers are 100% liable and the insurance claims are easier to prove. I take pictures of everything as they’re doing it.

In 2020, during covid times, I built a small switching layout I called Hermitage Road, which depicted some of the switching lines near the Seaboard Air Line Hermitage Yard in Richmond, Virginia. Inspired by our European modeling friends, I build Hermitage Road as a small British-style “Cameo Layout”. I built it using lumber, track and parts from the dismantled Ackley layout and had it 90% complete in four or five months.

Here’s one of the last views of the layout in operation. As I write this, the layout and all my train stuff and household goods are on the Maersk Tennessee V232–which is still in dock in Antwerp.

Below. Here’s the little layout all wrapped up prior to being loaded into a moving crate.

Since August 5th I’ve been back in Illinois living with my fam in an empty, rented house. I am blessed here with a big basement that awaits Hermitage Road and all my stuff. See the photo below. We plan to put a family TV room to the right, and use another bedroom downstairs for storage. The rest of hte basement is mine. I’m certainly not planning on filling it with trains, but there is an unobstructed 34-foot wall (seen at left) for Hermitage Road. The workbench will go on the back wall and the wall between the doors at right is reserved for two bookcases.

Assuming there’s no mishap with my stuff, or the ship don’t sink, my stuff should get here around October 1st. Right now the plan is to hang Hermitage Road on the wall at left, and–when time and money permits–build a second layout depicting a small Midwestern town, sorta like the old Ackley layout.

I intend to hang the layouts on stringers attached to the ceiling. Back in 2003 I put up a loop of track in a 30 x 30 unfinished basement–I called it “The Giant Loop” and it was hung on the ceiling rafters as seen below. I hung stringers to the ceiling rafters and attached shelf brackets to the stringers, then put the layout on top of the shelf brackets. It was simple and went up fast, and it left the space underneath the layout clean and unobstructed.

I’m thinking that I can hang a long, narrow shelf on that 33-foot wall–maybe 15 or 20 feet–and that would be suitable for a new small town layout. I could have the benchwork up in a day or two.

The more I stare at this big empty basement, the more inspired I become. Inspiration is funny–sometimes it finds you, and sometimes you have to work to find it. In this case I think inspiration found me.

Speaking of inspiration, I went to the National Train Show last weekend in St. Louis. I wasn’t interested in too much on display, but this scene on the Credit Valley Freemo layout really got me going. The broad curve with all those brown 40-foot box cars is awesome. It is very inspirational in it’s simplicity.

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What can be said about moving? It’s the pits, but sometimes you’ve gotta do it to learn and grow. I tell my family that moving is a great way to re-make yourself and start good, new habits. In that way moving is a blessing. I hated to leave Germany but I’m ready to start a renewed life here in Illinois with a better outlook on life and modeling. I hope to see you guys at some modeling events soon and share the good news.

And here’s the Good News! God has said to all of us, For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster. To give you a future and a hope! – Jeremiah 29:11

No. 173: The Rapido Pennsylvania Railroad X31 Model

It has been a very busy year at home and at work, and I’ve only been able to post three times on the blog. since January 1st. My last post was last week after a good railfan trip; the last modeling post was more than 60 days ago. Here’s a catch up.

Despite the lack of modeling and railfanning I was able to take the family on a few trips. Covid restrictions here are 99.9% history and everybody’s traveling again. I took the family to Eindhoven, Netherlands in late February for a long weekend–that was beautiful–and in March I took my youngest daughter to Andalusia, the region on the southern coast of Spain, for a week-long father-daughter getaway. We went there for hiking, sun and fun. There wasn’t much sun, but we went on a few epic hikes and had a great time together.

Below. During our trip to Spain, my daughter and I visited Gibraltar. Here’s a snap from near the top of the rock, with the channel between Gibraltar and Morocco in the distance.

We also hiked a trail in the mountains northeast of Malaga formerly known as “the most dangerous hike in the world”–the Caminito Del Rey. Part of the trail is seen below. The trail was rebuilt in 2015 and it is perfectly safe now, but it is still pretty scary.

Okay, enough of that boring stuff. On to modeling!

The New X31s

By now, most of you prototype modelers have seen Rapido’s new X31 cars. They’re outstanding models. I recall 15 years ago or so, the guys on the old Steam Era Freight Cars list on Yahoo Groups saying “We need a 21st-Century model of the X31!” Thanks to Bill Schneider and the guys at Rapido, we’ve finally got it.

My first two cars came in the mail in February. The Pros: I’m impressed with the overall appearance, paint color, lettering, running boards, fine details, ladders, wire grabs and sill steps. Brake gear is good, not great, but good. The Cons: The coupler boxes are ghastly (I understand they’ve gotta meet NMRA standards, but there’s gotta be a better to to replicate draft gear) and trucks (in the era of Tahoe Model Works, these are just plain bad). Bottom Line: They look great and are layout ready.

Below. The Prototype, circa April, 1937. Courtesy Bill Lane.

I upgraded my models starting with the auto car first. I replaced the couplers with Kadee #78s (and cut off those pesky trip pins) and replaced the trucks with Bowser PRR coil-elliptical trucks with Kadee semi-scale wheelsets. I painted the trucks with ScaleCoat 2 Oxide Red–that’s a really close match for the factory paint. That was it.

I started the weathering process by airbrushing the model with a few coats of clear Testors Dullcote. When that was dry I added a drops of Scalecoat Oxide Red to the Dullcote and mixed it up nicely–making a semi-opaque flat–then sprayed the car again to provide a flat overall finish using something close to the original color. Here’s a view of the opaque below.

Finally I airbrushed the underframe and lower side sills with a medium brown color to simulate some dirt build-up, and then added some car-knocker’s chalk marks with an artist’s pencil. Lately I’ve been using a white pencil for newer chalk marks and a medium gray pencil for older marks, and I like the effect. Finally I finished up with a little highlighting with various dark colors applied with a paintbrush. I sprayed on one more very light coat of the opaque mixture and called it complete. The placard is from Microscale.

Next I finished my single-door X31. Here’s the car right outta the box:

To prevent the cars from looking alike, I decided to heavily weather the single door car like the X31 in the photo below. Charlie Duckworth sent this image to the Proto Layouts list, which was originally taken by Joe Collias in St. Louis in the late 40s. I like the roof weathering and the contrast between the running boards. Check out the PRR T-1 on the right!

To begin, I replaced trucks and couplers as I did with PRR 69402 above, and then gave the model a few light coats of Dullcote.

Next I slowly applied AIM Weathering Powders–Rust and Dark Brown–to the roof. I applied the powders panel-by-panel and took my time. The Dullcote layer gave the powder something to stick to. I worked the powders in with the brush, toothbrushes and soft files. I found that a soft, thin flexible file works great to take off some of the powder and give a streaking effect. When I was happy with the appearance I applies Dullcoat to seal it, and then painted the individual running boards with tan, medium gray and oxide and then lightly sanded the colors in to blend them together. I wanted a stark contrast between the running boards and roof, and I think I got the effect alright.

On the sides, I slowly streaked the same AIM powder mix on the side sand ends. I used wet 0000-grade steel wool to work off some of the powder to get the look I wanted. I wanted the weathering to gather at the top and the bottom. I sanded a little harder on the lettering to weather the letters in to the background. Those details really pop with a little bit of weathering.

I applied and re-applied the chalk several times on the sides to get the look I wanted. Finally I added some chalk marks and sealed it for good with a last shot of Dullcote. I used a dark brown/dark mud mix on the underframe and added AIM Delta Dirt on the lower ends–a favorite weathering color. I think this model turned out pretty well and I’m eager to try it again.

Incidentally, here’s a Bowser car I built and painted in the late 1990s. It was photographed in 2001. The Bowser cars are still nice models and the price is right. I’ve got a repack stencil on the left side of the car, and black trucks. I must’ve finished five or six of these just like it.

Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Rapido’s X31s. An X32 series would be nice–the 50-foot cars–and an X31F–the jeep carriers–would be nice too!

Three-Way Switch

Two weeks ago I drove up to Frankfurt, and on the way I stopped in Darmstadt, a small city right south of Frankfurt. There’s a lot to see there, including this–a three-way switch on a heavily-used industrial track that spins off the freight yard north of the city.

I’ve only ever seen two types of three way switches: 1) The symmetrical type, where tracks diverge on either side symmetrically on each side of the straight track, and 2) The asymmetrical, where a track diverges in one direction and another second track diverges 10-15 feet forward in the opposite direction.

This one in Darmstadt is different still. See below. In this arrangement, we have a straight leg with two tracks diverging in the same direction. It’s not quite a three way. I’d almost call it a compound turnout. Still, it has a Cool Factor of 10.0.

Here is a closer view of all three frogs.

Below. A view of the linkage on the second switch. It is brick-lined. I’ve never seen that anywhere else. This is motivation enough for a scratchbuilding challenge.

I haven’t seen too many of these in the U.S. In fact I can only remember seeing one–the famous three-way stub switch leading to the old engine house on the Aberdeen & Rockfish Railroad in Aberdeen, N.C. I did find one online recently, on the Flickr Milwaukee Road Project site–this one on the loop track in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin (see it at lower center where the road crosses?):

While on the subject of track, I did about three hours of railfanning this morning in nearby Mannheim. I stared at this turnout near Waldorf for 20 minutes. It looks like a double-slip, but on closer inspection I’m not so sure. It looks like another compound switch of some type. Whatever it’s called, it’s a work or art!

It was a good day of railfanning and I’ll write more about it sometime. The next post will cover a few National Car Company cars I just completed. Enjoy your weekend! -John G

No. 172: Roundhouse Day

Even though I model American railroads, I find railfanning in Europe very exciting. There are lots of trains to admire and photograph, and lots of older facilities still standing for modeling inspiration. Here are some words on a railfanning trip to Frankfurt yesterday.

I took the day off of work on May 6th and drove to Frankfurt to railfan and also visit four roundhouses still standing in the area.

I didn’t expect to get to them all. Last weekend I went to Darmstadt to photograph two roundhouses extant there. I was unable to photograph either of them. One is deep in railroad property and I was unable to get to it. The other belongs to a museum that’s only open on Sunday. Trespassing in any way is Verboten in Germany, so I came home empty-handed.

Below. The Darmstadt-Kranichstein Railway Museum is the largest railway museum in the state of Hesse. It can be seen in the distance behind the interlocking tower. The site is now owned by a club, and includes a retired roundhouse, car shop, and yard.

Today was different. It was a warm, clear, sunny day, and with a little begging and pleading I was able to photograph all four roundhouses–well, 3-1/2 of them. Here’s the story.

The first roundhouse was at Bischoffsheim, a few kilometers south of the Rhine River and Frankfurt. There’s a small yard there and a roundhouse viewable on Google Earth. See below. The line at the top left leads to the very busy main line on the south bank of the Rhine River. At right the main line diverges in three directions; one of which leads to a massive Opel plant just out of view. The roundhouse can be seen at the bottom right.

Bischofsheim turned out to be quite a hot spot. First stop was the train station where I took pictures of the parade of passenger and freight trains from the passenger platforms. I was there a little over an hour and saw about 30 freight and passenger trains of all kinds.

Below. This is a Hessische Landesbahn train, or Hessian State Railway at Bischofsheim. HLB operates regional passenger-train service in the German state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is located.

Below. One of many freight trains seen today–this one is on the diverging line to Frankfurt. Unfortunately I had to shoot into the sun.

Another freight, this one with better sunlight but a shadow cast by the overhead walkway. This train is coming off the Rhine River route. The overhead walkway, by the way, provides access from Bischofsheim station at left to the center track platforms. Whether or not you like German railways this is a great railfanning spot!

Below. Here was something unusual–I think it was a DB inspection train. Its shown here heading into the yard from the Rhine River line. It stopped in the yard for a few minutes and then went blazing past me–backwards–on the line to Frankfurt seen on the right. Also take note of the single-slip turnout at right. Single and double-slips are everywhere here.

Below. This is a ICE (Inter-City Express) train. I saw about seven or eight here today, another 20 at other places throughout the day. ICE trains don’t stop at Bischofsheim. They blasted through at–just guessing–80 mph, maybe faster. Probably a lot faster. They are fast and practically silent, a combination of factors that can be very dangerous.

Below. After an hour on the platform I navigated through the dense city streets to the roundhouse area. I stopped and asked a couple of railway employees if I could photograph the roundhouse. Somehow between my broken Deutsch and their broken English it was determined the answer was no, but I could park and try around the other side if I wanted to. There was a lot of railway activity so I grabbed a few photos and left. This roundhouse is privately-owned now, and most of the tracks have been removed. Again, no trespassing.

The fellow I talked to said the roundhouse was built before 1900. Here’s a view of the stonework, below:

Thankfully, the turntable is still in place and operational. Two things I noted were the the pit is very shallow–only about two feet or so, and there’s a manual hand-crank–like an old handcar crank–on the opposite side to spin the table manually. No Armstrong bar.

Feeling good, I then drove 35 minutes north to Hanau, a small city east of Frankfurt, to try and photograph the double-roundhouse and double turntables there. Like Bischofsheim, the Hanau Hauptbahnhof is situated between multiple diverging lines in each direction. There are separate, side-by-side freight and passenger yards. A retired engine terminal where the roundhouses still stand is located in the northeast corner of the yards.

Below. Upon my arrival I stopped to photograph this “flying signal” near the roundhouses. What a beauty. I discovered there are quite a few of these still in use in the area. They change aspects with a screech and a “ka-clunk”!

Here is the first of the two roundhouses at Hanau. The roundhouses are literally located right next to each other. They are both operated by a museum club, so I walked in and politely asked if I could take photos. They allowed me to take photos but only outdoors–what a shame since both roundhouses are full of steam engines.

Below. Next to the roundhouse above is this smaller, six-stall roundhouse and shallow turntable. This table also has a hand crank on the opposite end.

Below. A second view of the smaller roundhouse. It is clean and very much in active use. I didn’t photograph inside as I was instructed, but I did take a look. This one was full of diesels. Also note the stall numbers refer to the track numbers, not the total number of stalls.

Below. a large pile of beautiful Fossil Fuel for steam engines.

Active main lines pass on each side of the roundhouses. Here’s a DB electric passing at about 40 mph. In an hour over 20 trains passed on either side of the terminal.

On the opposite end of the yard, near the passenger platforms, is a control tower and more semaphore signals. There are also plenty of crossings and single-slip switches. The overpass in the background provides a great vantage point for…

…photographing trains from above.

Below. To the right of the photo above is the passenger main line, although I saw–but failed to photograph–a number of freights there too. The lines cross over each other in the background and in both photos the flying crossover can be seen on the concrete embankment on the right.

For some reason, many of the passenger trains on this route were powered by freight engines–that spiced things up a little bit.

Sadly, I left Hanau around 3:00 o’clock and headed west to photograph the last roundhouse of the day. This one was is West Frankfurt–Frankfurt Hochst–close to the main lines coming west out of downtown Frankfurt.

Below. Here’s an HLB on the main lines, slowing for it’s arrival at the bahnhof in the distance. The roundhouse is off to the right. I only saw one freight train in the hour I was there–the one in the distance with the blue engine. It didn’t budge.

It turns out the roundhouse was inside the massive I.G. Farben chemical plant next door. The plant is surrounded by a ten-foot-high brick wall, and there was no hope in trying to talk the guards into letting me in. However, I got little bit lucky. There was a highway overpass next to the plant and I was able to get a shot over the fence. See below.

Below. It’s only half a shot, but under the circumstances I’ll take it. There’s a turntable in there somewhere, and a half-dozen switchers are in view. A closeup reveals the roundhouse with a date-stamp of 1918. It is good to see it still in daily use at 104 years old.

Below. Google Earth has a good winter-time view, as seen below. Part of the I.G. Farben railroad complex can be seen, along with the roundhouse and turntable at lower center. The plant would make an interesting model in any era–lots of freight traffic!

So there you have it–four roundhouses in one day. I left at 6 p.m., to head home, tend to the family and then get to the workbench for an hour where work continues slowly on a few National Car Company reefers.

Until next time…

– John G

No. 171 – Freight Car Modeling: Rath Meat Reefers and Rock Island Single Sheathed Box Car

It has rained almost every day in southern Germany since about October 15th. Over 130 days of cold, wind, rain and darkness. It has made for good modeling weather, and a good ski trip in December and a good hiking trip in January, but not much else.

In the few month I finished two models–one an old classic, and another a “bespoke” single-sheathed car that I’ve been wanting to build for a long time.

The Mather Meat “Reefer”

Here’s a prototype view of the classic car, below, courtesy Bob’s Photo. This is a Mather company meat refrigerator car

The Mather company built stock cars, refrigerator cars and box cars and leased them to the railroads. The Mather fleet even included a few tank cars. Mather leased cars to some big railroads and many short lines. The Mather cars were unique in that they used “off-the-shelf” steel components rather that complex, proprietary parts used in many other cars. In so doing, they standardized car building long before most other carriers did.

Red Caboose made an excellent model of the Mather reefer, and in the early 2010s I built a few sof these models for my freight car fleet. When Rapido introduced their beautiful GARX meat reefers, I sold off both the Mather cars…and I regretted it right away.

I built the model above using the basic Red Caboose kit and used custom decals to decorate the model.  When I built this model, around 2011, I was still using Accurail trucks…

To overcome my sadness, I bought another Red Caboose meat reefer online last summer to replace the cars I sold.  I assembled the model per the instructions and used a few prototype photos as a guide.  I installed Cal Scale AB brakes (kit includes KC brakes) and Tahoe 40-ton trucks with semi-scale wheelsets.  I also installed Yarmouth metal sill steps to replace the kit-supplied parts. 

If it looks like the model in the photo above has had the factory paint removed, you’re right. This car came from eBay factory painted for the Rath Packing Co.  I managed to screw up the factory paint during the weathering process and eventually had to repaint the model.  I had applied a light coat of Testors Dullcote, and then applied a thin coat of black paint over the top to try and get the black paint between the wood sheathing on the car sides.  It worked well on most of the car, but the black paint streaked on one side by the door and turned all the sheathing black.  I couldn’t repair it.

Eventually I ended up sandblasting the whole model and repainting the carbody. After sandblasting I shot the car with a light coat of Mr. Surfacer 1500, and when that was dry I shot it a second time with Tru Color Milwaukee Road orange. Spraying with a light gray primer coat is absolutely essential when painting a white, yellow or orange carbody.

I talked to my friend Ted Richardson when I was painting and finishing the model.  Ted has done a lot of research on these cars.  Ted–an Illinois Central modeler–told me, “Based on what the retired guys from the Iowa Division told me the paint without the Indian Head logo would be good for the early fifties. The Indian Head logo didn’t come into use until 1953 based on our conversations. I have color photos showing roof and ends as the Oxide color. The guys said the underbody, and trucks were always rusty looking from the brine.”  Ted also mentioned Mather used their own reporting marks for short term leases (MRRX), and the leased cars were usually stenciled with the lessee’s name in black. 

I had a few Rath decal sets on hand, provided by a friend, so I was able to repaint and decal the car back to it’s original Rath-ness.  Meanwhile I painted the roof and ends Scalecoat Oxide Red and the underframe Testors Satin Black.  Then I assembled the major carbody components and applied the decals.  The decals were pretty thick, and it took several applications of Walthers Decal Set to get them to settle down properly.  See above.

When the decals were done I hit the whole model with a coat or two of Dullcote.  Next, I hand-painted the lower side sills and hinges per prototype photos.  I weathered the bottom of the car, trucks and lower side sill with a custom-mixed dark dirt color (made from tan and black paint) and then brush-painted around the whole model with a light tan to set off the decals.  I also applied a few chalk marks using a white Prismacolor pencil.  I weathered the roof with AIM Weathering Powders—a variety of rust, brown and black mixes—and sealed the roof and everything else with one more light shot of Dullcote.

Below. The decals are on and set, and the carbody components are painted and ready for final assembly.

When decaling a model with siding, I usually apply heavy coats of Walther decal setting solution to get them to settle down. Often the decals will not settle into the recesses between the sheathing, so I use a sharp, new x-acto blade and cut them across the sheathing, then re-apply the setting solution. I used that technique on this car and it worked well to help the decals settle.

After the model was built I brush-painted the lower side sills and hinges black per prototype photos.  I weathered the bottom of the car, trucks and lower side sill with a custom-mixed dark dirt-colored paint , mixed from tan and black paint, then brush-painted around the whole model with a lighter tan to set off the details.  I also applied a few chalk marks using a white Prismacolor pencil.  I weathered the roof with AIM Weathering Powders—a variety of rust, brown and black mixes—and sealed the roof and everything else with one more light shot of Dullcote.

The model turned out well, but I managed to break the bottom rung off of both ladders.  I trimmed them both off and will hope that nobody notices all that much. 

 Above, Here’s the new addition on the Hermitage Road layout. This was a straightforward build, but it took longer since I tried to rush the initial weathering which forced me to repaint and reweather the whole thing.

This year I’d like to slowly increase my meat reefer fleet.  Among the cars I’d like to model is this one, below–a somewhat rare 40-foot Mather reefer. I’ll have to kitbash it, and still haven’t found a suitable model to use as a starting point.  I think I can use the ends from a Red Caboose kit, and cobble some sides and a roof together from two kits. Photo below courtesy Chuck Yungkurth.

The Bespoke Rock Island Single-Sheathed Box Car

Living in Europe and watching a lot of British TV has made me familiar with a few common British terms. One of those terms I use frequently is the word bespoke, which means custom-made. In other words a custom-made model in American lingo would be a bespoke model, or just plain bespoke, in the King’s English.

I’m scheduled to write an in-depth article on this build for the Resin Car Works blog, so I’m not going to go into too many details here.

So what’s the big deal about this car? Westerfield makes a kit, but the Westerfield kit has as-delivered wood ends. This model represents a later car with Murphy ends. Oh, and it’s Not a Fowler car, by the way–which is also unlike the Westerfield model–even though Westerfield says it’s Fowler. I got a stern lecture from Steve Hile on this, and he should know being a Rock Island expert. Anyway, to make this Not-Fowler correct I used Murphy ends from a NYC kit. I’ll explain later in the RCW post.

While I was painting the 133000-series car I used the K4 set to also repaint this car below, which is an old Sunshine model. The 141000-series car looks a lot like the 133000-series car, but it’s taller. They have a nice family appearance–especially since I repainted them both with Tru Color TCP-197, Rock Island Freight Car Brown.

Meanwhile, the Hermitage Road layout continues to get a few upgrades. I lowered the top of the front fascia four inches to close in the scene a little more. I think it looks a lot better. It’s kinda hard to tell without a “before” picture, but I think this view sums it all up. I’ve just gotta finish that last darn building and the layout will be complete. Oh, and I still need to work on the backdrop a little bit more too…

Hope you’re all enjoying a wonderful spring. Slava Ukraini! – John G

No. 170 – Modeling The Sitterding, Carneal & Davis Construction Co.

Above: Here’s the Hermitage Road layout as of today.

Most of my little Hermitage Road layout was planned around a single industrial track behind the Seaboard’s Hermitage Yard locomotive shops in Richmond, Virginia. Here’s a Sanborn view, below. That one track had the Alcatraz Co. (paint, varnish and asphalt–what a combination) and the Richmond Cinder Block Co. of Richmond. I felt those two companies would provide opportunities to use box and tank cars (Alcatraz) and cement, gondola, hopper and box cars (Cinder Block Co.). I felt that if I was building a small layout I needed to incorporate as much variety as possible.

The layout was sorta designed around those two industries. I put that track along the back wall of the layout.

I built up a model of Alcatraz based on a few other pictures I had on hand. Here was my version, above. You can see the track wasn’t even laid yet but I was already well-ahead on creating the structures.

Below. I had pretty much finished the model when I decided that I didn’t like it. That’s the curse of freelancing. I really wanted to have at least one industry that included a tight alley with a track running through it, and the prototype Alcatraz fit the bill perfectly. Ultimately I wasn’t satisfied with the low relief of the structure I built. It just didn’t scratch the itch.

About the same time I learned about a large construction company on the nearby Seaboard triple-track main line called Sitterding, Carneal & Davis. S-C-D, as I call it, was a huge construction materials company. They handled lumber, asphalt, plumbing supplies, roofing, and everything in between. Frederick Sitterding was a successful realtor in Richmond during the World War One era, and William Carneal was a well-renowned Virginia architect. Sounds to me like they cornered the market not only in design, but in providing the materials for construction of their own projects. The more I read about S-C-D the more I felt that I should incorporate a version of it into the layout–even though it was served by a siding off the SAL main line.

Around March of 2021 I removed the Alcatraz Co. and started building a version of S-C-D. The real S-C-D included a large conglomeration of wood and brick warehouses, with lots of open land for lumber storage. I built a first version of version of S-C-D from leftovers of the Marshal Canning Co. from my old layout. I added an additional building to the original structure, and a tank or two for asphalt, trying to capture the enormity of the operation. I got about this far, below, but had difficulty matching the finish on the new buildings in the background with the old buildings used for the cannery.

Freelancing is a B-word. Modeling Sitterding, by the way, also gave me a large vacant lot to scenic (see where the red pickup is?). Below: Here’s how it looked early on.

I liked my original S-C-D effort but determined that I could do a lot better, so took it down and replaced it with a new building made from Walthers Modulars. Like the Block Company on the layout, I tried to use a variety of shapes and sizes and edges on the building to break it up a little bit.

Below. I used this photo below as a guide. Fenton Wells sent me this one he took in the 80s. This is part of a furniture factory on the Southern Railway in Lenoir, North Carolina.

Here’s another view of my S-C-D building. I really like the Walthers Modulars but they take a lot of work to line up and assemble cleanly. I suppose that’s why they discontinued the series. Nevertheles,s the look is timeless.

Below. I took this photo around 2001 at the location of the old S-C-D plant. It could be that these buildings are part of the original Sitterding complex. The track in the foreground is CSX, former SAL, near the Broad Street Station.

I haven’t done any work on the layout since mid-December. My son came home and we spent a lot of time together, plus I’ve ben trying to finish up some freight car projects. And of course there’s work–always work. Anyway here’s one that I spent a lot of time on and just finished-a Rock Island “Not-A-Fowler” single-sheathed box car:

I hope you guys have a wonderful week! – John G

No. 169: Best Train Wrecks of 2021

Reflecting on 2021

Post-Christmas is a great time for reflection and planning for the new year. I always like to make plans for the next year after Christmas. I think it’s a good way to set goals and “refresh” myself for the year ahead.

In my hobby life, it’s a good time to reflect on my wins and losses for the year, and make renewed plans for the new year. I think I had some good hobby wins—I finished a lot of projects and the Hermitage Road layout is now about 90% complete. But I had a whole lot of less-publicized losses which also need to be recorded—in other words, my best train wrecks for the year.

Best Train Wrecks of 2021

Like the photo above, train wrecks are best shared with other people.

This Milwaukee Road car was finished in March. I’ve been trying to slowly add some 50-foot cars to the fleet to add some variety. I took a lot of time to get the build right, and get the paint color right, and get all the details right. After laying the decals down, I hit it with Dullcote. Then I noticed that there were some prominent bubbles in the Route of the Hiawathas decal. See them all trying to hide on top of that rib? If I try to fix it I’ll ruin the rest of the finish. So I’ll just have to face that car away from the aisle forever.

Doesn’t that make you wonder why we finish both sides of a model in the first place?

This is a Monon single-sheathed Fowler box car that I bought from Chad Boas at St. Louis RPM 2017. I decided that I wanted to build new ends, so I cut the model up and added new ends and a replacement Westerfield roof. Well, one thing led to another and I tore up everything to the point where I had to consign this one to the round file. I’ll try again…this time with an Accurail car.

Here’s an NP Historical Society War Emergency box car, finished a year or two ago. The decals cost twenty bucks (!!!) and were beyond thick. Thick decals for a single-sheathed car are a bad combination. They went on terribly and I worked on them for weeks. I‘m mentioning this one because this year I discovered Walthers Solvaset, which is much more powerful than MicroScale Decal Set, and I think had I used Walthers Solvaset on this car I would’ve had much better results.

Turning Cars White

I got really good at turning finished models white this year. Really good. It happens when applying Testors Dullcote to a finished model to seal the decals and paint. There are a lot of theories why this happens; in my experience, it occurs when the atmospheric humidity is greater than 40-50%, and also sometimes when the mixture is wrong (Dullcote + thinner) and sometimes when the atmospheric temperature is doing something stupid (too cold, or too hot, with perhaps some extra moisture in the air). It also happens if the coat goes on too thick, or if there is latent humidity on the model. Sometimes I think it is caused when the Dullcote dries in the air, after it leaves the airbrush on the way to the model.

Check out this New York Central hopper. It was formerly an M&StL car that I sandblasted, rebuilt and repainted with new K4 decals. The Dullcote pooled in the corners and turned a nice snowy white.

I was able to remove most of the coating by painting the model with paint thinner once or twice and thinning the dry Dullcote. Then I weathered the car a little heavily to fix the problem areas. I didn’t intend to heavily weather the car, but to avoid yet another trip to the sandblaster I weathered it hard and put it away wet. Results are okay (seen below).

I rebuilt this Wabash car in August while the family was away in the US for a few weeks. I painted it with Tru Color Wabash Freight Car Red and used the new K4 Wabash decal set to finish it. The model is an old Sunshine mini-kit. Well, wouldn’t ya know—after I hit it with Dullcote and it turned white. The picture doesn’t show it too well, but when it dried it looked like it was frozen.

In my anger I didn’t take a picture of its snowy whiteness. Instead, I brought it to the workbench and painted it with paint thinner to reduce the Dullote, and that worked somewhat. Once again, I had to heavily weather it, but I found that was a little prototypical since these cars were rebuilt in 1940 and by 1950 they were trashed.

Here’s the over-weathered version. I think another repaint is in this car’s future…

Here’s a hard-to-find Sunshine Rock Island rebuilt flat car that I bought on eBay a few years ago. I built, painted and decaled it, then turned it almost completely white with a bad shot of Dullcote. I sandblasted it, and found a set of decals from Hubert Mask that would work. So I re-painted and re-decaled the model…then turned it completely white again. A few paint-thinner baths and some touch up later, here’s the result. What a mess.

This CB&Q 50-footer, which I carefully built and added all kinds of things to, including a lot of expensive Archer rivets. To improve my chances I tried using Mr. Hobby flat finish. Test shots went on great. Yet somehow I managed to turn this model almost completely white as well. It’s now completely stripped and ready for a second try.

Below. All those expensive rivets…and decals…have been blasted away after I turned the whole bloody thing white.

And this Sunshine Models Milwaukee single-sheathed box car? The first paint job I put the wrong number series on the car. I robbed the decals from another Sunshine kit and repainted it, but it turned out so bad that I couldn’t live with it. The third time—using K4 decals—was a charm. There’s a more details discussion on the repainting at https://railroadprototypemodeler.wordpress.com/2021/11/20/no-172-completing-the-traverse-table-and-milwaukee-road-single-sheathed-box-car-re-do/.

Third times a charm:

Without a doubt the biggest train wreck of the year was this MP car. I spent about eight hours rebuilding this thing. Everything went well, including the paint, decals and Dullcote. When it was done, I looked closely…and found out that I put two different numbers on the car. One side is 86147 (correct) and the other side is 89147 (incorrect). Holy crap.

Best Layout Wrecks of 2021

I managed to pack a lot of wrecks into my 7’ x 18” layout this year. For example:

I built the coal yard, then took it apart and re-laid the track, then rebuilt the coal yard again…twice.

I rebuilt the grocery warehouse three times, as I outlined in my last blog post.

I built—to a level of 99% completion—the Alcatraz Paint & Varnish Co. Then I removed it and replaced it with the Sitterding, Carneal & Davis Mfg Co. (both were prototypes served by the SAL). I built two versions of Sitterding, and am modifying version two already.

Here’s Alcatraz, below. It’s gone.

The team track loading ramp didn’t escape either. I laid it down, moved it and destroyed it, then rebuilt it, and moved it again. Twice.

Here’s the team track ramp below. In the background are several other versions of other factories that I tried for a few weeks. They’re gone too.

Lessons Learned

1 – Do it right the first time!
2 – My actual hands-on hobby time is limited to about five or six hours a week. Rounding up, that’s about 300 hours a year. Note: Last year I spent probably 150 hours fixing mistakes.
3 – See #1.

There’s a footnote too: NEVER, EVER freelance a layout.

2022 Plans

I’m facing a move from Germany to the US in 2022. I’m also facing a career change. That’ll shake up my life and the first thing to go will be all my hobby time.

That means my hobby time will be even more precious. So I’ve really got to slow down and do things right the first time so I can finish 2022 with more wins, zero losses, and zero ties.

Hope you guys had a better year than I did! – John G

No. 168: Hermitage Road Layout – Modeling the Grocery Warehouse

On my little Hermitage Road switching layout, I wanted to include a grocery warehouse to generate refrigerator car traffic on the small layout.

There were a few grocery warehouses in the Hermitage Yard area that were rail-served through the 1950s so I felt it would be okay to include one on the layout. While studying Sanborn maps, I didn’t find any in the immediate area on the Seaboard, but I found several in the Richmond area on the ACL and C&O lines.

This photo, below, provided some inspiration for my model. I understand this one was in Dallas, Texas.

When I planned the layout last year I felt a grocery warehouse could work on either end of the layout. I wanted the track in front at the edge of the layout, with a larger building immediately behind it, to 1) Get the cars as close as possible to the operator, and 2) allow the track to run into the fascia to create a feeling that the track continues well beyond the fascia.

Below, here is the layout under construction last year with a box serving as a stand in for the grocery warehouse. You can see how I’ve got the track running in the foreground but behind the fascia.

Before I built the layout, I built up one of those Walthers Reliable Warehouse models for fun. The build was straightforward. I painted the model with Tamiya Flat Brown, XF-10 and used Tru Color Concrete on the foundation and Testors Guards Red on the windows. During construction I used Robert’s Brick Mortar on the model and it went on very well and the results were excellent.

Here’s a view, below, of how I wanted the building and track to be in the foreground with the track running behind behind the fascia.

I completed the model before I built the layout, and arranged the track around it, but it never quite worked out right. After a short while I replaced it with a larger structure made from Walthers Cornerstone Modulars, seen below. The Modulars building was way too big, and I felt it overpowered that side of the layout. So I removed that one and set it aside too.

Then I built a third version using parts left over from the Marshall Canning Company structure on my old Ackley, Iowa layout. I added a photo of that one below. I built several increasingly smaller versions. I was not able to get the mortar between the bricks to my satisfaction so I scuttled that project.

Frustrated, I went back to the original reliable warehouse building. I tore it apart, rebuilt it to fit the space, and here’s the result. Putty has been applied to a few gaps leftover after I deconstructed it and put it back together.

I scratchbuilt the elevator machinery house and the staircase on top using leftover material, and the chimneys are metal castings from various kits collected over the decades. I also built gutters from styrene strip and made lamp-posts from Tichy lampshades. I’m VERY happy with the final version.


Above and Below. Details for the grocery warehouse.

Here’s the final version, installed on the layout and 99% complete. About the only thing left to do is to weather the tarpaper roof somehow (it is black construction paper). That can wait a while though.

And there you have it–many versions of the same building, but finally we have one we can keep!

Rock Island 133000-series Box Car

Here’s a freight car project I’ve been working on for a few months. This is a Rock Island 133000-series single-sheathed box car that I built from parts from various Westerfield kits. I contacted Andrew Dahm at Westerfield and asked him about the car, and between us we figured out which parts might work to kitbash the car from Westerfield parts. He sent me a box full of kits and I got to work.

In the meantime, I contacted Mike at K4 decals and asked him if he could make up a decal set for this car and a few other Rock Island single sheathed cars. I also got in touch with Steve Hile, an RPM friend of mine and a Rock Island expert, and together we put together a data package for Mike. Steve did 99% of the research work. Mike had the decals ready in less than a week. In fact, I already have two sets here in Germany.

Here’s the link to the decals: Rock Island 40 Ft Single Sheathed Boxcar White – Decal – Choose Scale – K4 Decals – Model Train Decals.

My model is built, sandblasted and ready for paint. I’ll send a complete post on the model in a while after it’s finished.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas celebration and I wish you blessings for 2022! – John G

No. 167: Completing the Traverse Table, and Milwaukee Road Single-Sheathed Box Car Re-Do

I had minor arthroscopic knee surgery last Wednesday and took a few days off from work to recover. I was able to make some good progress on the layout during those days. Here’s an update.

Traverse Table

Here’s what the small, 7 x 18-inch Hermitage Road layout looks like today. At the far end, the dark square box is the entrance to the staging area.

Below. Here’s the other side of the portal to staging. There wasn’t enough room for a traditional staging yard with all the turnout ladders and all that, so I built a British-style traverse table instead.

A traverse table is a yard without the turnouts. The advantage is that it saves a lot of space in a given area. My design has a single entry track from the layout, a five-track “table”, and two exit or runaround tracks at the opposite end. The table is secured to the layout with a single screw underneath the center of the table. Each yard track holds 5-6 cars plus an engine. I used Atlas Code 83 track because I had it on hand.

In this photo, the traverse table tracks are mocked-up to see what’ll fit. The drawer slides are underneath the table, and extend out behind the table to allow the table to slide across all five tracks in either direction.

Below. After the table was built and aligned, I was able to lay track. First, the roadbed must be placed. Getting everything straight and lined up as perfect as possible is important since the all the tracks need to line up on each end of the table. After gluing the roadbed down I used switch locks to hold it in place.

Below. I laid the roadbed at the entrance end first. Then one-half of the roadbed was laid using a straight-edge. Before going any further, I waited a day and allowed the glue to dry, and then glued down the other half of the roadbed.

Below. In this photo, roadbed for three tracks has been laid. Using the 90-degree angle tool and the long straight-edge kept everything in proper alignment.

Below. All the tracks have to be spaced exactly the same so they will line up with the end extensions.

After all the track was laid, I wired up the table. Wiring was simple. I had to wire the front and end extensions, and each track, and that was it. I wired all the tracks together into a bundle and left enough slack in the bundle to allow the table to move. The track wires have quick connections so I can disconnect the table in just a minute if needed.

Below. Work in progress. What a mess!

Below. One of my daughters came upstairs to give me a hard time.

The layout is now operational again, thanks to the Mr. Traverse Table. Below, you can see that the engine is powered up and we’re hard at work moving coal cars through the portal to Hermitage Coal Co.

If you look closely at the bottom of the photo you can see that the height of the table doesn’t quite match up with the end. See the difference in track height? That’s something that needs adjusting soon.

Milwaukee Road 713471…or is it 714142?

You may remember this car from a previous post. It is an old Sunshine Models car that I finished about a year ago. I used the salt weathering technique on the roof, but in this case was never quite satisfied with the look.


Above. In August, during my “16 Days” building bonanza, I stripped the paint on this model and started over. First I sandblasted the model and then repainted it with Tru Color TCP-213 Milwaukee Road 1930-50’s Freight Car Brown. I decaled the car with K4 decals’ Milwaukee Road Single Sheathed Boxcar set.

The weather here in Germany was nice in September so I set up a table in the garage and did a lot of painting out there. Unfortunately, when I shot Testors Dullcote on the roof of this car, the finish turned white.

Below. Time for damage control. I gave the roof a bath with paint thinner and that took off most of the white residue. Then I weathered the roof with various AIM weathering powders, like Soot Black, Weathered Brown, and Oxide. I mised a new batch of Dullcote and sealed the powder.
A couple of weeks ago, Charlie Duckworth posted on one of the Groups.io lists and showed a few new cars he’d built. One or two of them had really nicely-weathered running boards. He used darker gray colors–darker than I normally use–and they looked great. I mixed up a palette of grays, and mixed in some earth tone paint color, and used used various shades on this car. I think it turned out well. Contrast is the key!

Finally, a last overhead view. I think the weathered running board turned out well against the darker roof.


What’s In The Box?

I got a mystery box in the mail last week with my long-awaited Rapido PRR X31-class box cars!

The cars look terrific and they are a great improvement over the Bower models, which–despite the molded-on stuff–I always thought looked great too. I got one of each for now because I need to save my sheckles for X-3s, GLas, an SP single-sheathed car, and whatever else they can surprise us with.

The Pros, in my opinion: Overall appearance, color, lettering, brake gear, details like grabs, etc. The Cons: Trucks (they’re awful!), brake wheel, coupler box/draft gear (why can’t we have something with some detail???), #5 couplers. There’s also no bell crank on the B end, but I’ll have to research that to see what equipment the real cars had. As for replacement trucks, Bowser has a nice pair of PRR-specific coil-elliptical trucks that can be used to improve the models.

Below. Here’s a closeup of the B end on the auto car. It looks terrific. The PRRT&HS had a lot of say in the development of this model, in particular the paint color, and I trust their judgement.

May God richly bless you and your families during Thanksgiving. Don’t forget to give thanks! – John

No. 166: Modeling Rock Island Steel Box Cars

In August, during the “16 Days” work campaign, I began a project to rebuild and repaint a dozen or more freight car models.

Two of those models were Rock Island favorites. The first was an Intermountain 1937 Modified AAR car that needed to be stripped and repainted because I did a poor job of decaling and finishing the first time around. The second was a Sunshine Models USRA rebuild that I finished 15 years ago or so, which needed updating. I just finished those models last week Here’s the report, with a little history.

RI 146309

Rock Island rostered over 4,100 1937 AAR Modified box cars. They were delivered with a variety of different doors and features, and some were outfitted with Duryea underframes. Some cars were built as express cars and were delivered with Allied full-cushion trucks. Refer to Ed Hawkins’ car rosters for detail on each series.

Below. I’ve built a number of models of these cars over the years. Here’s one of the first I built, photographed in 2001 in my back yard when I lived in California. There were fewer aftermarket parts back then, but still I installed the wrong type of grabs, and for some reasons painted those old fat-wheel Kadee trucks black. Those are Champion decals too.

Below. I took this photo in 2004 after living in Illinois a year. RI 146756 was yet another car for the roster, but my technology had not improved. In the background is yet another Rock Island car.

Below. I finished this car, RI 146301, in 2007. Better trucks and somewhat improved brake gear (as far as I can tell from here…), but I was still using Champ decals, and still no leap in finishing.

Below. RI 147313 shows some improvement. I finished this model around 2013. This model has Tahoe trucks and semi-scale wheelsets, better decals (a combination of Hubert Mask and Champ), and much-improved brake gear modeling. This was also the first model that I applied Kadee grabs to.

I covered the Salt Weathering technique in a previous post, which can be found at https://railroadprototypemodeler.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=9909&action=edit.

Turn the page six years. Let’s try again, this time with a now-hard-to-find undecorated Intermountain kit. I get rid of many of the parts–the trucks, running boards, grabs and the details and replace them all with better products. It’s about time for a 21st Century model of this car, isn’t it?

The latest model was assembled with Cal Scale brake gear and a ton of aftermarket parts all around. I installed the grabs using the Yarmouth Models template, taped to the car and then drilled through. I fixed the grabs with canopy glue. Getting the grabs on the ends lined up is NOT easy, but worth the time spent. I’ve run out of Jim King’s draft gear boxes and used Kadee #178 coupler boxes—not a bad compromise. So far, the build is pretty good and a trip through the sandblaster will clean up most of the mess and prep the slippery Kadee plastic for paint.

As I mentioned above, I finished the model about six months ago, but the paint and finish was poor so I immediately stripped it and repainted it. Here’s why: I used K4 decals for this model; when they arrived in the mail they were wet. I attempted to use them on this car and they did not go on well. I continued to finish the car and the results were not what I hoped for, so back in the sandblaster it went. Here’s the new model ready for paint…again…

And here we are after painting. I’m using Tru Color RI Freight Car Red, TCP-197 Rock Island 1930-60’s Freight Car Brown, thinned about 30% with Lacquer Thinner. Again, a technological leap over Scalecoat, in my opinion, with the added advantage that Tru Color is dry and ready for decals in 60 minutes.

I made my own running boards for this car using plastic strip. I should’ve taken more care to leave some space between the boards on the latitudinal.

Mike at K4 Decals was kind enough to send me replacement decals without charge. He sent the decals in plastic sleeves, but the sleeves weren’t sealed shut and somewhere in the trip to Europe they collected a little moisture. The replacement decals came in a box with sealed plastic and were perfect.

I’ve found that K4 decals are somewhat thicker than Speedwitch or Microscale decals. Microscale Decal Set and Testors Decal set had little effect on them. I tried a stronger setting solution—Walters Decal Set—and that worked great to get the decals to settle around rivets and detail. It’s pretty strong stuff and usually worked well in just one application.

Ultimately I plan to model two of these cars. This one, from the 146000-series without a Duryea underframe, and a second car from the 148550-149049 series with a Duryea underframe. George Toman displayed some inspirational work on the Resin Car Works blog modeling one of the cars with the National Scale Car Duryea underframe set, and I want to copy his effort soon on the second car. George’s article can be found at http://blog.resincarworks.com/workbench-wednesday-26/#more-2733.

Here’s my car, about 99% finished:

Back on the rails she goes!

RI 134541

RI 134541 is the other car I recently rebuilt. This is an old Sunshine Models car I’ve had around for about 15 years. It’s a cool model of a cool prototype, and even though Sunshine Models is gone you can get a kit from Chad Boas and make your own.

Rock Island rebuilt 800 USRA double-sheathed box cars to this configuration beginning in 1936. C&NW rebuilt over 1,200 of thier USRA double-sheathed cars similarly. A spotting feature of both car types is the original USRA 5-5-5 end with a blank panel added in the middle to increase the height of the end. There’s excellent coverage of these cars in RP Cyc #24.

Here’s a Jim Sands photo of a Rock Island car, circa 1960, courtesy Clark Propst.

Here’s my starting point for the rebuild, below. The photo is circa 2008. Why rebuild it? The model is the wrong color, and I got some silvering behind the decals that I could never fix.

First things first. A trip through the sandblaster cleaned off the weathering, all of the Dullcote, and prepped the surface for new paint. A little more pressure took the decals off.

Details used on the model include A-Line stirrups, Tichy 18-inch drop grabs, Hi-Tech air hoses with brass brackets, Tahoe Model Works 40-ton trucks with semi-scale wheelsets, and a Cal Scale brake gear set.

I thought the original build was pretty good, so I went ahead and painted the car without any detail upgrades. Here’s the model repainted with Tru Color TCP-197 again, which as you can see is a lovely, light maroon color.

Decaling was straightforward. I used the same K4 Rock Island box car set for this model, but I had to cut out the numbers to get the right number combination. I also had a leftover Rock Island decal set that came with the original kit I built all those years ago, and used the 80,000 lb. CAPY decals to get it right. Once again I used Walthers Decal Set because it works great with K4 decals.

I referred the prototype photo above for placement of the monogram. Note the monogram is NOT centered within the right side panels.

After decaling the model I hit it with a few light coats of Dullcoat and a few light coats of Testors Light Earth for weathering. I really didn’t want to over-do the weathering on this car.

Below. A closer-up view of the B end. The blank panel in the end is well-represented.

Here’s the finished model, below, on the layout and ready for action. I made the photo black-and-white to add a little period effect.

Hope you all have a great week! – John G

No. 165: Modeling the Hermitage Coal Company

Since August I’ve been working on freight cars and finishing the traverse table for the layout.  I’m still working on some of the unfinished freight car projects, but I’m devoting October to getting the layout back in operation and completing layout structures.

One of the more visually interesting customers on the layout is the Hermitage Coal Co. As you can see below, Hermitage Coal was a small dealer with a fenced property on a shared siding.

There are no know photos of Hermitage Coal Co. Here’s the look I’m after, below–a local coal dealer with piles of different grades of coal on the ground, and a small office and a few conveyors. Walthers makes a nice conveyor that works great for the scene.

My interpretation of Hermitage Coal has changed since I started the layout last October, but the concept has remained the same. I want a flat coal yard with coal piles and a fenced yard much like the Sanborn map shows. This type of coal yard was very typical in the south and in small Midwestern towns.

Here’s a view of the coal yard area when the layout was in the track planning stage. In the original plan, I wanted to include two storage tracks in the middle of the layout—two long, stub-end tracks for car storage. The area I’m modeling didn’t have storage tracks, but storage tracks were typically built in industrial switching areas in the early 1900s and would be useful on a model railroad. I also planned the coal yard on the layout edge so I wouldn’t have to model the whole thing with all the details and vehicles and fencing and all that.

During planning, the storage tracks consumed more space that I had, so I eliminated them and decided to model the whole coal company instead. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve tried to make space for both the storage tracks and the whole coal yard.

Below. After laying the track and getting the layout operational last November, I ran trains around a few weeks and continued testing and planning. I discovered that I had not left enough useable room for the coal dealer, and felt I could make it right by moving the track over 5-4 inches closer to the aisle. The track was already glued down, wired, painted and ballasted. So I cut the wires, wet the track down with rubbing alcohol, and after the glue came undone I slid the track over a few inches. I pinned everything in the new alignment and let it dry again. It re-glued itself in place just fine but eventually I did have to add more ballast and of course re-wire the track.

To make the coal piles, I started with a small pile of real coal and wet it with rubbing alcohol, then wet it down with matt medium. I added more coal and repeated teh procedure until I had a reasonably large coal pile. I think they look pretty good.

Below. I started the coal piles before most of the scenery was complete. I have six or seven plastic containers with real coal in various sizes, so I used a different size for each pile to try and simulate different grades of coal. I’m not sure why those two piles in the center turned white. They look like burned coal, don’t they? Anyway I covered them with more coal and now they look like they’re supposed to.

My favorite is the large pieces of coal over on the far left end. They have a nice contrast to the other egg and lump coal piles. The two conveyors are by Walthers.

Here’s another view of the initial coal yard below. This was back around the beginning of 2021 when I was still trying out the Plastruct material for the concrete block company (the white building against the backdrop).

Below. Once I got the piles like I wanted ’em, I painted the ground with Tamiya Flat Black to simulate years of spilled coal and coal dust. This area will be surrounded by a fence and it’ll look right when it’s done.

Another view, below, from the left side of the layout.

Below. I cut a “test fence” from cardboard to see how it all looks. I cut the height at six feet.

One of the central design features of my little layout design was to ensure a “bowl effect”. Basically that means that taller buildings are in the back and on the sides, and flatter/shorter industries—like Hermitage Coal—are in the middle. So the layout should look a little bit like a bowl, or like you are reaching into a bowl when operating it. That concept keeps big things out of the middle of the layout where operators are leaning in to work.

Last winter, in an effort to maximize space on the little layout, I dismantled Hermitage Coal and tried it in different places on the layout. Having Hermitage Coal in the middle of the layout maximized the bowl effect, so I was wary of moving it. Nevertheless I did mock up Hermitage Coal in a few other places to really see if it worked better elsewhere. It didn’t, but here are photos from the mock-up sessions so you can come to your own conclusion.

First, below, here is Hermitage Coal at the far left end of the layout. There wasn’t much good about this option. There was still room for two cars but just barely. It also generated a backdrop problem, in other words now I have to decorate the backdrop on the left side of the layout. Additionally, what would I put in the original Hermitage Coal Co. place? Ultimately I rejected this plan because there wasn’t much room for freight cars.

Next I mocked up the coal company on the far right side of the layout. I had the same problem as on the left side—there was barely room for two cars, plus I had a backdrop problem again. In addition a low-height shipper here reveals the ugliness of the entrance to staging. That’s a no.

Last, I mocked up the coal company in the center of the layout, but on the other side of Hermitage Road. I liked the shape of the fenceline and how it followed the track on every side. Now that’s cool. The problem, once again, is there were just enough room for two 35-foot hopper cars and no room for trucks, a garage, or anything else inside the property.

The fence I’m using is made by Tichy. I originally made my own fence because I thought an uneven look would look best, but it looked terrible. Below, I painted the Tichy fence with a combination of Tamiya browns and then stained it with a black paint-and-thinner wash.

Here’s the coal company back at the original location. I will truncate the track a little but to fit the Southern Fuel & Oil Co. behind. Even with a few inches of track cut off I can easily fit three hoppers in the yard.

I’ll finish the coal yard and pot more soon. Meanwhile I’m working hard on the traverse table and also finishing up some freight car projects from August and September.

Here are two of the cars ready for the layout. The model below is a Kadee car that I sandblasted and repainted with the new Resin Car Works mini-kit. The trucks are Tahoe Model Works double-truss with semi-scale wheelsets. The car would look better with a real coal load.

Also finished was this car, below. This is an old Sunshine Models car that I stripped, rebuilt, and repainted. I used K4 decals. I’ve had trouble with K4 decals in the past but this time I used Walthers Decal Set to get them to settle down and that worked wonders. The paint used was Tru Color Rock Island Freight Car Red.

That’s it for this week. I have four more posts in work–just need time to get them edited and ready for prime time. I pray you all have a good week! – John Golden