Friday, May 9, 2014

Pennsylvania Railroad X-28 Automobile Car Built in 1926

Pennsylvania Railroad Innovation in 1926

There was an increasing amount of a mass-produced product in the 1920s that warranted its own type of car for transportation. It was the automobile. Cars were being produced by the hundreds - even thousands. They needed to be shipped from the factories to their destinations. A new distribution system popularized the "dealership" that would take delivery of multiple cars in the hope of selling their brand of autos. 

Efficiency in Manufacturing and Distribution

Henry Ford found ways to streamline the manufacturing and shipping process. He would crate his automobiles in sub-assemblies and rely on the dealers to set-up and prep the cars. His basic sub-assemblies were the motor, wheels, frame and body. Parts would also be included for final assembly. Henry Ford designed the system so efficiently that even the wood of the crates was used in the automobiles he shipped.

Dealerships Helped Build the Cars

Dick Kilday tells the story of how his father worked as a messenger for one of the dealerships. When a boxcar came in to be unloaded on a team track, it was his job to notify the dealership. In order to do that, he would go down to the railroad yard and wait for the regularly scheduled freight local to drop the consigned shipment at the team track.

He would run to the dealership and several men would go with tool boxes to the team track and begin to unload the sub-assemblies.

Right there - on the ground - the men would put the cars together. The lot next to the team track became the assembly area for the dealership. The first test drive of the cars consisted of driving the cars over to the dealership.

Working Against the Per Diem Clock

The men had to work fast to ensure that the car was ready for the next pull. That is when the car had to be empty and ready for the next freight to pick up. Otherwise the railroad would be charged the per diem rate for keeping the car another day. That cost would be rolled down to the dealership with a little bit added to make a profit for the railroad.

So, the men had to work fast to get the box car emptied and the automobiles back to the dealership.

The Pennsylvania X-28

In 1926, the Pennsylvania Railroad developed the X-28 box car specifically for this service. As a late entry into the cities that manufactured automobiles in Michigan, the Pennsy had to offer services that were above that of their competitors. Their engineering department came up with a car that was two feet longer than the standard forty foot car. This design improvement may seem minor, unless you need just a bit extra capacity to fit in crates and frames. Two feet made a lot of difference in what could be packed in.

A Door and a Half

A bigger opening helped, too. Getting auto frames and crates out of the side of a box car involves twisting the product around until it can go through a door. A bigger door means less twisting. But, it comes at a price. A door does not have the structural integrity of the side panels of the box car. So, achieving a balance meant adding a half door to a single door. The doors would be big enough to pull out the loads, but would not sacrifice the side strength of the car and its ability to brace a load.

The Oriental Limited X-28 Model in HO Scale

The Oriental Limited Pennsylvania Railroad X-28 was made by Sung Jin in Korea with catalog number 0388. Their 42 foot Automobile Box Car is a good model with a lot of weight. It rolls like the real thing. Tommy Gilbert of Gilbert's Hobby Shop will be painting mine. He will letter it in the original 1926 paint scheme - as in the black and white builders photo above.

Pennsylvania Railroad Cars Show Up a Lot

When you look at photographs of trains in the 1920s, PRR freight cars show up a lot. They had a huge number of cars going all over these United States. The Denver and Rio Grande Western is no exception. They received and passed on Pennsy equipment a lot. So, it is appropriate for some of those cars to show up in Colorado, even though the Pennsylvania system was pretty far away.

I will be back dating the paint scheme on T-29 number 784, but ten-wheelers were real workhorses in the 1920s. You could find them in front of freight and passenger trains. Shuffling around an X-28 is right on the mark.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Narrow Gauge in Cambodia

When I was in Saipan there were remnants of a system like this, including a steam locomotive hulk.  It looked like it was the prototype of the old Ken Kidder 0-4-0 "Mudhen". I've got both of the HOn3 versions - with and without tenders. I know I've got black and white photos. I'll find them and post them in a later blog.

This is delightful video from Cambodia that shows that there is a prototype for everything

 - even 0-5-0  operation.

Hang on for an exciting ride -

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Steam into History News Coverage on Channel 27

Steam into History: Steam into History was covered on Channel 27 with noted rail historian, Roger Cutter and excursion manager Debi Beshore. For details on how to get tickets go to

abc27 WHTM

Monday, March 17, 2014

Denver and Rio Grande Mixed Train 17MAR14

Mixed Train on the Three Rail

Combining narrow gauge and standard gauge on one line is fun. It offers some operating opportunities and some wiring challenges. It is really not that hard.

The Dual Gauge Trackage Rules
  • There are still only two polarities
  • The two rails that are closest together share the same polarity for standard and narrow gauge.
  • The isolated rail is the shared rail for the opposite polarity for narrow and standard gauge.
  • The dual gauge turnouts work fine as long as you remember to wire from the point side of the turnout and isolate the diverging routes on the frog side.
Using these simple rules, even complicated switch combinations work well. Shinohara turnouts work well out-of-the-box. Trout Creek Engineering's dual-gauge BK Enterprises turnouts require hand-laying and manual wiring, but they work fine once installed.

Mixed Train Proof Of Concept

It is one thing to know the theory. The real enjoyment comes from testing how the theories play out in practice. So for my proof of concept test train, I included a Denver and Rio Grande refrigerator car that I converted, painted and lettered.

Even though it is hard to find ready-to-run HOn3 Denver and Rio Grande freight equipment, it makes for an interesting project to re-letter other makers' car bodies. With the case of the Micro-Trains HOn3 Refrigerator Cars, the underbody must be modified to back date it to the pre-1921 Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge era. Later on, I'll be doing a couple of postings on this fairly simple conversion.

The body's roof is what makes this conversion appealing. It is close to what I have seen in my research. A good source of information on  Denver and Rio Grande (and Western) freight equipment and cabooses is Robert E. Sloan, A Century + Ten of D&RGW Narrow Gauge Freight Cars, 1871 to 1981, or the website,  You can also talk to Tommy Gilbert at Gilbert's Hobbies in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Adding Ties to Model Bridges on a Curve 24FEB14

 Getting around a Straight Bridge

There are many examples of streams, arroyos, and gullies that must be bridged on a curve by railroads. It would not be a very smooth ride on a train if every time a curving rail line had to cross something with a bridge, the track straightened out. Yet, the physics of building materials requires that straight pieces are used for construction.  Whether it is a wooden pile bridge or a steel bridge, the stringers are usually straight - even if only from pier to pier.

So, railroads overlay their curving line above the straight stringers. These photographs show how this works. In the top of the photograph is the HOn3 Micro-Engineering 30 foot open deck girder bridge. Below that is a scratch built low pile bridge. Actually, the lower bridge has only the wooden stringers. The piles and sway braces will be built later.

Even though the Micro-Engineering bridge has a piece of HOn3 bridge flex track that come with it, I wanted to use wooden ties to give a varied appearance. I stained Campbell Scale Models Profile Ties with Builders in Scale Silverwood, Brownwood Stain and Redwood Stain. Unfortunately, the Campbell Scale Models website said that these ties are sold out. There is an unwritten rule in model railroading - "Get 'em while you can". So many offerings in the hobby are limited run and once they are gone, you have to search for them in various hobby shops. That's why they call them "collectors' items".
Curve to the Outside

One of the subtle things that you notice is that the ties should be laid with a little more tie to the outside of the curve - past the supporting beams underneath. You can see how this works in the photos.

There are a couple of reasons for this. In order for a very heavy weight, like a train, to balance, it needs to remain over the beams as much as possible. Imagine the rails going from the inside of the beam to the outside of the beam. The ties need to follow this path. Outside of the swing of the rails, there is also some extra space for someone to walk across the bridge - or seek limited refuge if a train comes along.

Some railroads make this part of their engineering and might even include a walkway for safety. Also, think of a open passenger car platform. On a curve the outside end steps will be sticking farther out than the center of a car. In case of needing to get off of a passenger car in the middle of the bridge, there needs to be longer ties on the outside of the curve.

In the case of a derailment, the trucks would tend to move toward the outside of a curve. The net effect of all of this is that ties should be longer on the outside of the curve.

Keeping the Ties In Line

There are a lot of forces associated with the movement of a train over a bridge. The "dynamics" of force is a complicated subject, (see Railroad Construction by Walter Loring Webb for a detailed discussion) but consider a locomotive wheel exerting force upon the rail as it pulls a train. There is a tendency for the rail to be pushed backwards. This is the "opposite reaction" to the forward movement of a train. When the rail is fastened to a supporting structure, it does not go backwards. The train goes forwards because the rail is stationary. 

So, the more things that hold the rail (and ties) in place, the better.  On ground, the earth itself can work to keep the rails stationary. Ballast surrounds ties. Spikes hold rails onto the ties. It is usually a pretty solid system as long as the track gang performs its maintenance functions.

On a bridge, the earth is remotely connected to the supporting structure. On an open trestle or open girder bridge, there is no ballast. So, guard rails or wooden beams are necessary to help hold the ties in place. This is critical in the case of a derailment, when the train would tend to separate the ties.

Wooden Guard Rails 

In the early twentieth century, these guard rails on the edge of the ties were wooden and bolted to the ties. They were straight. The length of these beams was limited by the curve and fitted in place. For Colorado narrow gauge, ten feet long is reasonable.

For a thirty foot long bridge, there should be three guard beams on each side. For each bridge, I needed to cut six beams. The ends of the straight beams have a slight angle to allow for the curvature of the bridge. In the color photos that I have seen, the Denver and Rio Grande Western would sometimes color these guard rail with a mineral red color.  So, I used the Builders in Scale Redwood Stain for them. It provides a nice contrast to the ties. Weathering will later homogenize the colors a little.

I use Elmer's Glue-all on the tip of a toothpick to apply a tiny amount of white glue to every third tie or so. This will do a good job of holding it in place, yet give you a little time to adjust the final location of each beam.
This view of the open deck girder bridge show all six pieces of wood in place. It also shows how the curve is followed by the straight pieces. By the way, that plastic cutting board under the bridge is a good moveable work surface. Not only is it good for cutting, but it protects the desk, workbench or table from excess paint and glue.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Forced Perspective 23FEB14

Hanging Out with Model Railroaders

One of the great things about model railroading is sharing your enthusiasm with other modelers. Rail fans tend to have a certain personality that lends itself to comraderie. In order to get a model railroad into operation, a person has to have imagination and creativity. Model railroaders can set goals and do the work required to see their dreams come to reality. Almost all model railroaders also have a playfulness about them and a sense of humor. These things, combined with an interest in history, industrial activities and trains in general tend to make railroad people fun to be with.
Big Trees

Dick Kilday is one of those delightful model railroaders who are thought-provoking and interesting. You've probably seen Dick giving his tree clinics at the Narrow Gauge Conventions or at other model railroad meets. I'd like to talk Dick into doing a shared blog on his incredibly realistic trees. After you've made a tree following his methods, you will end up wondering if you have to water it once it is installed on a layout. In this view above, he is holding an NCE Power Cab during some experimental operation on my layout.
Forced Perspective

One of the things that we got to talk about in our visit was the concept of creating the illusion of depth. How can you create the illusion of miles on a board that is only a couple of feet deep?

Put the Big Buildings in Front

No matter what the scale, when the big buildings are closer to the viewer and the buildings get smaller toward the rear of the scene, the distance to the background will seem greater. I conducted this imagineering experiment to prove this point with the layout of buildings on my HO model of the Denver and Rio Grande dual-gauge in Salida, Colorado.

The white building, closest to the camera, is a tall building with a false front. It is the Wickenburg, Arizona Telegraph Office by Bollinger Edgarly Scale Trains. From this view the Telegraph Office seems to tower over the other buildings.

In the middle distance is a Kibri log cabin that I modified with HO True Wood Rustic Shake Shingles by Builders in Scale. European plastic kits tend to be smaller than HO scale size. In fact, I put Musket Miniatures children that I had painted on the porch and for the Kibri kit, the children are perfectly sized for adults. So, this less-than-HO building is a good far-away building.

Put the Tiny Buildings in the Back

Just or fun, on top of the mountain, I placed an N scale false front building. It's only a couple of feet back, but it seems very far away because it is a smaller scale.

Converging Lines

To further add depth to the scene I have used converging lines to draw your eye to the rear of the scene. Particularly the roof lines tend to point to the mountain in the back. This gives a feeling of being pulled into the scene. In fact, when you first looked at this photograph, your eye probably went to the mountain before it saw the Denver and Rio Grande narrow gauge Class 70 Consolidation by Blackstone.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Setting the Course for the Stream and Background Scenery 20FEB14

Creative Use of Roadbed

Just because it says "roadbed" doesn't mean the Woodland Scenics product has to be used just as roadbed. Anytime a level wall or foundation is required, the flexible foam roadbed is ideal for creating shapes on a model railroad.

In these views, I am providing the walls to form the South Branch of the Arkansas River as it goes through the territory served by the Monarch Branch of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The foam roadbed provides the support structure for the edge of the deep cutting stream and it also will provide support for the towns of Monarch and Garfield.

Foundation for the Foundation

Since I would like to use switch machines to control the HOn3 turnouts around Monarch and Garfield, I will place a sheet of plywood over the top of the oval-ish area, supported by the foam roadbed.

Just the Right Weight

Books are a good way to weigh down the foam roadbed to ensure that the glue sets with the foam as level as possible. I put wax paper between the foam roadbed and the books to prevent any contact between the Elmer's White Glue and the books.

I prefer using Elmer's White Glue because there is at least a half-hour or so that things can be adjusted. In the overhead shot, you can see the long path of the South Branch of the Arkansas River, which is a critical feature of the Monarch Branch.