Saturday, April 14, 2018

The West Isle Line -- An Undiscovered Gem

I've been railfanning California for almost 50 years, but I recently found out about a short line-industrial operation that's had very little attention, the West Isle Line. According to the Wikipedia link,
The West Isle Line (reporting mark WFS) is a private railroad and is a wholly owned subsidiary of Crop Production Services (formerly Western Farm Service). The line is operated by a contractor and the line does not have any employees. The line began service on January 7, 1998 after being acquired from the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway. The line runs for 5.25 miles from Alpaugh, California to a connection with the BNSF Railway at Stoil (milepost 936 on BNSF's Bakersfield Subdivision). Western Farm Service is the only customer on the line.

Western Farm Service bought the line from the BNSF in order to avoid having the BNSF's "Alpaugh Branch" abandoned. The line was formerly part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and was constructed by the ATSF in 1914.

Here is a YouTube video of typical operation:

For reasons I haven't been able to discover, the gondola always stays with the loco and has been called its "pet gondola" in railfan discussions. The GP9, its only loco, is ex SP 3399; exx SP 3472; nee SP 5639. The train seems to operate once a week, hauling interchange from BNSF at Stoll to a transload in Alpaugh. The traffic seems to be fertilizer in covered hoppers and tank cars.

Here's the layout at Alpaugh, the western end of the line, from Google satellite:

In the lower right, you can see the GP9 and gon parked. Here's an enlargement:

About a mile east of the terminal in Alpaugh is a runaround:
And here is the interchnge with BNSF at Stoil:
There's a lot of similarity with other short line operations not too far away, especially the Buttonwillow line of the San Joaquin Valley Railroad. A model shelf layout with features of similar California short lines, including the Ventura County Railway and the Santa Maria Valley, would be an interesting project.

I'm planning to stop by the West Isle Line for a look on my next trip north.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Pulpwood Spur

The next industry over from the Jaques grain elevator is the pulpwood spur. This is actually reached from Bay City over the interchange with the German main line. Theoretically, it could serve both German and US equipment, but so far, I don't have any European-prototype pulpwood cars. This industry ships pulpwood to paper mills.

A rearrangement of the separate industry shelf in the storage room adjoining the layout will probably allow a direct connection between the paper mill on that shelf and the main layout once the tunnel through the wall is complete.

Pulpwood has been a common commodity in places like Maine, upstate New York, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and southeastern and south-central US.

The spur is long enough to handle all model pulpwood equipment, at least, what I'm aware of. Here's an Atlas car in my collection:
A vintage Tyco pulpwood car, repainted and lettered with decals from Great Decals:
A Walthers SIECO car:
A Walthers Canadian-style car. These are some of the most common still in contemporary use.
An Ambroid 1 of 5000 MEC-BAR pulpwood car. I mass produced three of these from partial kits I found at a swap meet, but it took several years of on and off effort. This one hasn't yet been lettered.

If anyone wants to set up a virtual pulpwood interchange in the virtual ops program, I'll be happy to exchange info.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Progress Shots And Virtual Industry Info

I was trading info with fellow blogger and modeler Neal M, when he suggested that a list of industries by themselves made it hard to visualize what kind of equipment might actually be routed to them. I sent him some photos, but then I began to realize that I hadn't updated my industry photos in a long time, and in other cases hadn't documented things very well at all. So this post will start a series of layout progress photos, with an emphasis on industries.

One of my biggest inspirations is George Sellios's Franklin & South Manchester. Over the years, many thousands of photos of this layout have been posted on the web. However, more recently, a few guys on a forum have come up with the idea of using cell phones, sometimes on selfie sticks, to get different camera angles. Check out this thread for some of the results. I've begun to experiment with cell phone shots as a result.

Meanwhile, here is the first set of progress shots. This covers the grain elevator in Jaques and the surrounding area. The elevator was a Timberline kit that I assembled nearly 50 years ago and upgraded with new paint and improved roofing about 15 years ago when I installed it on the layout.

Scenery is in progress in the background. I built the section sheds from SP drawings using heavy cardboard and Paper Creek building papers, now no longer made.
The German main line runs behind and below Jaques.
A cell phone shot from the other side of the peninsula. When the new scenery goes in, it may not be possible to get this one.
If you look closely, you can see that the spur for the grain elevator and the line running past it is dual gauge. The third rail for standard gauge ends just at the bottom of the photo.

The grain elevator hasn't yet been named. As an industry for virtual ops, it ships grain in clean 36- and 40-foot boxcars.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Detour Through Germany

I started what became the core of my "lifetime" layout when I was over 40, and I was 46 when we moved to our current place and I reassembled it in the basement and began its expansion. On one hand, my interests as far as modeling was concerned were mature, and I had a good idea of what they were and what they could become. That was the good news. The bad news was that I liked everything -- diesel, steam, electric, narrow gauge, foreign prototype, the gamut, including all regions of the US.

This meant that I already knew I ran a big risk -- you see how some guys will model the Santa Fe in the 1950s, for instance, and one day they decide to rip out a whole basement layout and start over because they've decided they like On30. I decided I wasn't going to be that guy. I didn't have the time to waste ripping out and rebuilding, and I didn't like surrendering to lack of focus. So I designed a layout that would allow me to follow different interests. In part, that meant setting things up so that sometimes Germany was cheek-by-jowl with the US.

Here's an example, a DM&IR RSD-15 being waved through a junction by a couple of German guys:

I began to realize, though, that if I was going to expand ore operations, I was going to have to route them through Germany.

The German part of the layout has had its ups and downs as I've pursued one or another interest over the years -- progress has been slower than in other areas, but I've kept up the interest. It dawned on me while I was thinking about how the ore operation was going to expand, that this would, among other things, be a good opportunity to address some of the scenery issues in Germany. This part of the layout is pretty intricate, tracks are on three and four levels, with the idea that I was going to scenic things so you didn't quite notice that.

(I used to participate in open houses once a year or whatever, but it wound up being such a chore to explain to visitors what I was trying to do while they patiently explained to me that I was doing it all wrong that I simply gave up having visitors.) Anyhow, one feature I built into the layout 25 years ago was the option of punching through one basement wall into an adjoining storage room. The option branches off the German main line, which you can see here:

It's the switch leading to nowhere in the upper center of the photo. But I realized that if I was going that far, I might as well make some real progress on Germany. Here are a few shots from when I started the project a couple of weeks ago:
I got up on a stool to make this shot on my cell phone this morning:

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Atlas Yellowbox FP7

The Atlas Yellowbpx FP7 dates from 1975. The locos, made by Roco in Austria, were a big improvement in running over what had been available in the low-end HO market up to that time. The F unit body was also a step above the Athearn-Globe tooling from about 25 years earlier. I wound up getting a large number of these over a couple of decades, mostly from swap meets and secondhand tables at hobby shops.

One of my lesser prototypes is the Soo Line, but my interest has been somewhat steady over the years, especially since the MR Red Wing project layout in the December 1994 issue. I built an Athearn bluebox GP38-2 inspired by that layout.

I have some DVDs that cover the Soo Line in the 1960s and 1970s, and I'd begun to notice that the old Atlas Soo Line FP7 didn't look all that bad in comparison with the prototype. Soo red-and-white was a road name from the original 1975 run, but in comparison to the other paint jobs in the early runs, it had some good possibilities. I found one on eBay with DCC installed at not too bad a price, considering it included the install and the decoder. Here's how it looked from the box, mint, in like-new condition, except of course for the decoder install.

One aspect of the paint job that maybe was what made me discount it in earlier times was that the prototype had black pilots and side steps. I fixed this, and I also painted the Farr-Air filters silver. I'll do more work by adding a winterization hatch, number board decals, builders plates, and ACI labels.
By current standards, it's a little crude, in fact, the Bachmann F7 wouild be a better option if they offered it for the Soo Line, but they don't. But this project has reminded me to pull out some of the yellowbox FP7 backlog in my purgatory box:
I'm still thinking through what I can do with this one. Conrail? Katy? C&NW? Lots of options! The 1975 chassis is an easy DCC conversion.

However, things get more complicated. This site gives a pretty good history of the Atlas yellowbox FP7 through its evolution. In 1990-91, Atlas-Roco released an upgraded version with a heavier frame, some improvement in body details, and a different motor, which was the same as used on the Atlas-Roco yellowbox Alco switchers. This included a revised wiring system identical to the Alco switchers, which in turn makes the 1990-91 locos pretty advanced DCC installs. The motor must be removed and insulated from the frame, with the motor mount screw replaced with a plastic one. Then the drive train must be reassembled and gaps cut in the PC board for a decoder hardwire. Whew!

Atlas itself phaased this model out after the 1990-91 runs and never transferred it to Japan or China. In 1998, E-R Models released a revised Roco version, this one using another revised frame, a new PC board, and yet another motor. Here's a shot of the revised frame:

This E-R PC board now has an 8-pin NMRA DCC socket. However, there are cryptic signs on the PC board suggesting that traces need to be cut for DCC, so I will need to see if I can find out what's up here.

But clearly I need to reduce the purgatory box backlog I have with these locos!

Friday, March 16, 2018

More AHM Ore Cars

More or less as an experiment, I found an AHM LS&I ore car on eBay, which claimed to have Kadees and metal wheels. I was wondering if the guy who worked on it had done anything like what I've been doing on these cars. Here's how it arrived:
It wasn't quite what I was hoping for. The "Kadees" turned out to be something like McHenry, the earliest version with the plastic spring fingers that wear out very quickly. And the coupler boxes had been CAed into the original AHM truck-mounted coupler pockets. The original builder did in fact paint the truck frames -- an enormous plus -- and also painted the black plastic underframe pieces, and the metal weights. A very good start. There were also the metal wheels.
So it was back to the LF&NW shops to bring things up to snuff. I tossed the plastic plugs that held the trucks in -- screws are really needed to adjust the play in the trucks for decent operation. I inserted sprue material into the mounting holes for drilling #50 and tapping 2-56. Also, I didn't mention this in my last post, but to mount Kadee boxes on the underframe, you need to shim beneath the end sill with .020 styrene to keep the coupler boxes level. The AHM trucks broke as soon as I tried to remove the metal wheels.
I touched up the paint and painted the sideframes of new trucks, as well as the metal wheels. Neal M asked in a comment on my last post what kind of trucks I use. In general, I use whatever AAR cast steel trucks are in the junk box. On this car, I used one old Roundhouse plastic sideframe and one even older metal truck with real springs. You really can't tell the difference once they're painted.
Here's the upgraded underframe. It's had a few test runs, but I haven't started weathering it yet.
My conclusion is that AHM ore cars turn out remarkably well with an evening's work and can be made to run reliably on a modern layout. I recognize that the LS&I didn't have cars exactly like these, but on the other hand, this is an example of how much fun vintage cars can be on a layout. Some weathering on this car will help blend things in, too. So I sent for another AHM ore car on eBay. Here's the box, which is in remarkably good shape for something maybe 50 years old:
The end of the box shows the price as of the 1960s, $2.49. It also shows what road names were available in the early runs. I think AHM added some other road names later. (The B&LE car I found and talked about in my last post must have been a later addition, for instance.) A scan of an ad I found on the web shows that these early cars were being advertised at least as of 1970.
I'm actually quite pleased with how these cars have turned out. Bachmann has been bringing back some old Tyco and AHM cars, but so far they haven't done these. With upgraded trucks and coupler mounts, plus more prototypical paint, they'd be a good addition to their line, except they'd probably want $30 per car.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Ore Cars

Back in 2015, I posted on an AHM B&LE ore car I found at a swap meet. I talked then about the cars' background as I knew it at the time, saying that I thought they ran mainly in Pennsylvania and Ohio, though they did wander onto the EL and PRR.

Just lately, because my interest in ore railroads continues to simmer, I got a DVD, C Vision's Vintage Ore Railroads. The second half covers C&NW and Milwaukee Road joint ore operations on Michigan's Upper Peninsula in the early and mid 1970s, when they were still using FM H16-66 "Baby Train Masters". In just a couple of scenes, the video showed some of these same B&LE ore cars re-stenciled with C&NW reporting marks but otherwise carrying the old B&LE paint and lettering.

This prompted me to pull out the car I'd gotten at a 2015 swap meet, which had since migrated to the purgatory box.

I did my usual thing that I do with AHM cars, tossed the trucks with the pizza cutter wheels and truck-mounted horn-hooks, installed body-mounted Kadee boxes with mounting holes drilled and tapped for 2-56 screws, and also plugged the bolster holes with plastic sprue material in order to drill them out #50 and tap 2-56 for mounting screws.

I masked off the sides, sprayed the ends and underbody with a more or less close match to the factory paint, and installed short-shank Kadee #153 couplers. I scrounged new trucks from the junk box.

I gave the sides a light respray with the body paint mixed with flat finish to blend things in.

The new car is on the left, an older one that I did with Champ decals 35 years ago is on the right.

The car will get metal wheels with my next trip to the train store. If I can find some CNW reporting marks in my decal files, I'll restencil them on this car, too. Based on the info in the C Vision video, here's an old Roundhouse ribbed ore car with taconite side extensions and Herald King CNW decals posed next to a B&LE hopper.

The B&LE cars continue to puzzle me. I have an ORER from 1984 that lists B&LE ore cars in series 20000-20982 with an overall length of 24 feet, which is the number series of cars I see in photos and on which the AHM cars seem to be patterned. A 24 foot length would make them capable of unloading on Lake Superior ore docks. However, the DVD shows them on CNW-MILW all rail trains, which makes me think the ORER entry is somehow in error, and these cars are in fact slightly larger.

Poking around YouTube, I found a channel by a guy who is having our brand of fun with the hobby and intermingling Roundhouse and AHM ore cars:


I keep building ore cars, but I haven't fully figured out how to work them into my operation. But I'm thinking about it. Focus on the piece of plywood just above the center of the photo and stay tuned.