No 180: Rebuilding Hermitage Road, Pt. 1

I went to Paducah, Kentucky last weekend–about a two-and-a-half-hour drive–to attend my daughter’s swim meet. Between the morning and afternoon races I took an hour to drive around the old Illinois Central locomotive shops, now run by NRE, and I also railfanned some old factories downtown. Downtown by the Ohio River is a nice display of railroad equipment, including this IC 2-8-2 and a rebuilt caboose.

The last time I was at Paducah was in 1988 when I stopped for an evening on a family trip–35 years ago. I wasn’t able to get into the NRE facility last weekend but back in ‘August of ’88 I waltzed right through the gate and was able to touch and photograph all kinds of cool things, including this guy:

And this guy:

I didn’t have time to stop by Mt. Vernon, home of the once-huge Mt. Vernon carbuilding shops. Mt. Vernon lies about halfway between my home and Paducah but in all the years I’ve lived here I never bothered to go there.

Or so I thought. When I was looking through my old Paducah slides I found that I had indeed been in Mt. Vernon and just forgot. This is from 1990, back when the shops were rebuilding locomotives for Precision National. It’s not the best photo but there was a lot going on back then.

Layout Work

Meanwhile, in the basement, work commenced this weekend on O’Fallon’s only active railroad–a new and improved Hermitage Road layout.

I mentioned a few months ago that my layout got bashed up during the move from Germany. A few weeks ago I took a day off of work to meet my buddy Lonnie Bathurst at his house, and there we cut new wood for my new layout and also wood for a demonstration layout for our friend Tom Mann.

The new layout will be very similar to the original Hermitage Road only this one will be slightly longer and include a little more track and a few more industries. It will still be a small, sit-down style layout that I can move easily. The track plan will be a little different. I will include a few “dummy turnouts” to hint at more industries off-layout in the aisle. Here’s what I’m thinking so far:

The mock-up above includes a lot of rebuilt turnouts I’ve been slowly preparing for the layout int he last month or two. The wye is a rebuilt Shinohara Code 70 and the others are various rebuilds of Micro Engineering and Shinohara turnouts, plus a few made from Central Valley tie strip.

The photo below shows some industry planning. The pieces of paper help me make sure I’m leaving enough room for all the industries I’d like to model.

The material I’m using for the benchwork top is similar to what I used on the original layout. The original Hermitage Road was built in Germany, and I used a German product called Styrodur, which is a BASF product and is similar to American blue styrofoam. Styrodur is much more rigid. I can’t find Styrodur here but I found something at Lowes that’s similar; LG Project Panel. Project Panel is a multi-purpose insulation product and is both light and sturdy, and I can even carve a few features like a ditch or two if I want.

Freight Car Builds

Work continues slowly on 12 new freight car models, like this one below, that I built this fall. This one is a B&O M-58 that is the result of a lot of work by a lot of different modelers. Fenton Wells was the major instigator here; he had Chad Boas build a parts kit and Mike at K4 Decals make a decal set.

Four or five of the new models are O scale (Proto48) cars, which take a little more time to weather and finish. I’ll get everything done in the coming months. My Proto48 USRA hopper, below, is coming along nicely. Decals are by Resin Car Works. Heavy weathering next!

Other Work

Last Thursday evening I gave a Zoom presentation on rebuilding RTR turnouts to a group led by Ron Christiansen and Greg Bueltmann. I’ve known Ron for 20 years through RPM events–he’s a great guy. Greg is also first-class guy, and he’s currently serving as the Superintendent of the NMRA Michiana Division.

When the government shut down the country for covid, Ron and Greg set up an online group to keep people in touch and encourage more talking about trains and modeling. Eventually they began hosting weekly presentations on Zoom. Greg manages a huge database of all our Zoom presentations which can be found here: My turnout presentation can be found here:

My talk was about three ways to rebuild RTR turnouts. An example can be seen below; this is a Code 70 Shinohara wye that has been mostly rebuilt using all the original rail, a new throwbar, home-cut wood ties, and a Proto87 Stores #4 frog. More details are on YouTube.

Here’s another one I rebuilt using the same techniques using a Micro Engineering Code 70 turnout. In this closeup, below, I’ve replaced the cheap ME frog and replaced it with the beautiful casting made by Details West. Ties are scale 6 x 8-inch wood strip which I cut myself.

Also included in the presentation was a short talk on modernizing older Tortoise switch machines.

I’m considering using a Barrett Hill electronics package on the new Hermitage Road layout, but Barrett Hill equipment only works with late-production Tortoise machines with the green circuit board. I was able to buy replacement green circuit boards online for $2.50 each and rebuilt seven machines for under twenty bucks. Here’s what they look like disassembled, above. The machine is simple and replacing the board takes about ten minutes.

That’s it for now. If you have time to watch the presentation let me know what you think. – John

No 179: New Proto48 Builds

Years ago I had dinner with Ted Schnepf. Ted is a former Milwaukee Road track guy and now runs an online and traveling hobby shop called Rails Unlimited ( I explained to Ted that I had an HO layout and was fully-invested in HO scale, but I also enjoy building Proto48 freight car models as a side-hobby.

Ted said, “Oh yeah, you’re what we call a rubber-gauger. That’s a guy that bounces back and forth between a few scales.”

New Proto48 Builds

I’ve lived back in the St. Louis area for a little over four months now, and in that time I’ve focused on building many of the models stashed away in my “someday” box. Included in the someday box is about 15 O scale freight car kits of various types. I’ve built up three of them in the last two months. Here’s a report.

New York Central USRA Hopper

After knocking out 13 HO scale cars this fall I began the build on an Oscale Intermountain USRA hopper kit. It’s a beautiful kit–simple, nicely-detailed and BIG. The prototype for my car is below. Photo courtesy Jay Williams.

I started with the ends on this model. The ends are applied as one piece, which saves a lot of time, but I replaced the plastic grabs with brass and had to bend all the grabs myself.

Below. Here’s an in-progress shot of the ends. The ends are taped on awaiting glue to dry, and I’m adding grabs one by one. The next photo shows some of the work completed. I must say, the work is exactly the same as in HO, but completely different because of the size and the scope of work. I think this experience will help my HO scale building in the future.

I am modeling a modernized car and installed AB brakes on the model. The installation took three or four hours for the brakes alone. I know how to do it now, so I should be able to do it in half the time for the next car.

The coupler face plate was made from styrene and based on a few photos from rebuilt NYC cars. The trucks are San Juan Proto48 Andrews trucks, which have a beautiful cross-section but take yet another hour to build. The wheelsets are by Protocraft–they are exactly 4 ft, 8-1/2 in, not 5 ft, 0 in like standard O scale.

More to follow on this model as it gets sandblasted, painted and decaled. I’m really looking forward to finishing it.

PFE R-40-10

The second car I built up was this Intermountain PFE steel refrigerator car. This is another beautiful Intermountain model from the mid-1980s. The build is straight-forward, but I added replacement brake gear from San Juan, wire grabs, brass air hoses, and a few other details all around.

Below. Here’s my AB brake gear install. I used the San Juan AB brake set, scale chain, a bunch of wire parts, and some leftovers from the Intermountain kit. The trucks are Proto87 scale ARA trucks from Protocraft.

Below. Here’s another completed car view. I made my own running boards from Evergreen styrene, scaled out to 2 x 6 in 1-48 scale. I will model this car with hatches open. I like the variety of having a car here and there with the hatches open, although cars infrequently moved in that configuration. All the detail parts like the hinges, grabs, door locks, and etc. are taped to a piece of cereal box, ready to be painted.

Here’s the prototype for my model, the R-40-10 with Southern Pacific monogram, circa late 1940s. Bob’s Photo. I’m looking forward to having this car done too, and then building up a companion car.

Type 27 Tank Car

This is the O scale car I’m most excited about. I bought it online a few months ago and honestly this is the model that motivated this latest O scale building binge. It’s an ancient Intermountain Type 27 8,000-gal tank car that’s probably been in the box since 1985. I’ve wanted to build a few O scale tank cars for years. There are very few higher-quality O scale tank cars on the market and this one will build up into a beautiful model with a few aftermarket parts and a good paint job.

Here’s a near dead-on prototype for the Intermountain model, below. SHPX 20585 is about as plain-jane as Type 27 cars got. This is a simple petroleum-service car with all the brake components on the same side. The only difference I can discern is the heater pipes, which the Intermountain model doesn’t have. Photo courtesy Pat Wider.

Below. I started the project by building up the underframe and adding aftermarket brake gear. The brake gear set used is the outstanding kit made by San Juan. Interestingly it is cheaper that it’s best HO scale counterpart–the Cal Scale No. 293–but the San Juan kit is infinitely better detailed. An important aftermarket part missing in both HO and O scale is brake hangars; I used brass wire to simulate them as I do when installing HO brake gear.

The SHPX car being modeling had the valve installed above the cylinder. I studied drawings sent to me by Norm Buckhart at Protocraft and a few guys on the Steam Freight Cars list. Later production cars had the valve and cylinder on opposite sides of the center sill.

Below. Here’s the completed underframe with the brake rigging, trucks and additional details installed. Detailing up to this point was fun, and exhausting, and satisfying.

In addition to the brake gear work, the model needs a few additional upgrades to “robustify” it. One of those upgrades is improving the additional tank bands included in the kit. The kit parts just don’t cut it, so I made my own bands and added brass wire and Grandt Line turnbuckles to improve the detail.

Once all four replacement tank bands were in place, I was able to fix the tank body to the frame. Everything looks alright so far. By the way, the trucks I’m using are Protocraft 50-ton Coil-Elliptical freight trucks, which can be found at Few SHPX 8,000-gallon cars had these trucks.

Another item I had to scratchbuild was new side ladders. I made mine out of brass strip and wire I had on hand. First I taped the replacement ladder styles on the workbench using the ladder that came with the kit as a guide. Next, I marked and drilled holes to install the rungs.

Below. I made a little jig to hold the ladder so I could solder the rungs in position.

A whole lot of amateur soldering work later, I came up with this. I soldered the rungs to the stiles, and also had to solder an additional strip to the styles to I could bend them around the handrail. I’d like to build at least one more of these models and if I can improve my soldering skills I’ll make up a few replacements for this car.

And finally, there is this car, a 1958 cu. ft. ACF covered hopper. I didn’t build it–it’s an Overland brass model that I bought unpainted. I wanted to finish it as a Seaboard Air Line car, but after a little research I found it didn’t match any SAL prototypes. I scoured the RP Cycs looking for a prototype and only came up with two–Southern Pacific and Milwaukee Road. I asked Mike at K4 decals to modify his HO scale covered hopper set so it included the “Complex Tilted Box” monogram and will finish the model as an as-delivered CMStP&P car soon.

Someday in my retirement I’d like to build a Proto48 shelf switching layout. That day is coming pretty fast. When that day comes I’ll have plenty of freight cars ready for action.

I pray you will have God’s Blessing in 2023! – John G

No. 178: Freight Car Modeling, November 2022

Above. This former PRR Express X29 greets you at the gate of the Age of Steam Museum in Sugarcreek, Ohio. Unfortunately for me, this was as far as I got into the museum, as they were closed the day I got there.

In September I flew to Baltimore to pick up a car at the port and drive it to St. Louis.  I flew to Baltimore the morning of Sept 20th, picked up the car, and drove all the way to Sugarcreek, Ohio.  On the way I stopped in Blue Ridge Summit, PA to visit Mainline Hobby Supply—that was cool—and finally I stopped for the night in Sugarcreek, Ohio so I could visit the Age of Steam Museum the following morning.  The “AOS” Museum closed unexpectedly that day—they told me they had to move locomotives around.  Instead I spent an enjoyable morning railfanning the brickyards in Sugarcreek before getting back on I-70 and heading “home” to O’Fallon.

The active rail line through Sugarcreek is former PRR, later famously taken over by the Ohio Central and now operated by Genesee & Wyoming.   The Belden Brick Co. is the major shipper here, with warehouses in several places in town and a few dozen active beehive ovens at their facility on Highway 39 in town. 

Several long, open warehouses like the one below were built for box car loading. There are four or five of them around town.

The railroad property in town includes a short branchline into town to serve the original Belden plant. The branch still has a grain elevator on it, and in the old days it probably had a few more customers. Check it out on Google aerial view.

Below. As I get older I geek out on the little stuff, like track–particularly older track. This branch to one of the brickyards has rail from 1913, and a neat mix of new and old ties. Some of the ties appear to have been hand-made. In this photo, look how somebody drove a spike into the end of this tie to apparently keep the tie plate in place, but over time it split the tie.

I spent the morning exploring and photographing the area, and the rest of the day dreaming how to model the branch with the grain elevator, team track and brickyards.  There’s nothing like a day railfanning to spur one’s imagination.  

Latest Modeling Efforts

I was able to get a whole lot of model building done in September and October.  I completely built up 12 new freight car models and am currently working on another three models—a 21-year-old Bachmann 2-10-0, a Branchline 40-foot box car, and an O scale Intermountain USRA hopper. 

Below. Here’s the 2-10-0 with the prototype–SAL 501. This model has a long way to go!

Below. This model under construction is one of the awesome Intermountain O scale USRA hoppers. This is a beautiful model. I’ve been working on this model here and there for two weeks. Two processes which have taken a lot more time are bending all those grab irons by hand and installing all the piping on the brake gear. It’s coming along though. This model will become a New York Central car, circa 1949.

I’ll wrote more about this model when it is finished and painted. The photo below shows the hand-bend grab irons being installed. This wasn’t easy and contributed to long time needed just to construct the model. The end of the model is an entirely separate piece, and I used the tape to hold it in place while the glue set.

Makes me sad to think that this kit has been in the box for probably 35 years, waiting for somebody to build it. Every model deserves to be built.

Back in HO scale land, here are two of the new Rapido USRA single-sheathed box cars. Back on October 13th I sent this to the Steam Freight Cars group on

I received my two cars this week–one Milwaukee Road and one C&NW. First Impression: Very nice models, good paint color, good lettering, nice weight, very well built, nice detail all around. A welcome addition to the fleet.

Second Impression: I really don’t like the spaces between the boards but I understand why the manufacturer did that. The wood sheathing on the Tichy model is much better rendered. Both my cars came with K brakes (with AB brake parts in a separate baggie–a nice touch). However, I think both K and AB brake renderings are poor, and paint on the underframe is very heavy (obscuring what little detail is on the brake parts). I’m replacing the brakes with Cal Scale. The trucks: No. Replacing with TMW Andrews. Running board is alright but both of mine came a little bent out of shape. Running board detail is poor. Nothing a modeler can’t fix.

I received my two cars this week–one Milwaukee Road and one C&NW. My First Impression: Very nice models, good paint color, good lettering, nice weight, very well built, nice detail all around. A welcome addition to the fleet.

My Second Impression: I really don’t like the spaces between the boards but I understand why the manufacturer did that. The wood sheathing on the Tichy model is much better rendered. Both my cars came with K brakes (with AB brake parts in a separate baggie–a nice touch). However, I think both K and AB brake renderings are poor, and paint on the underframe is very heavy (obscuring what little detail is on the brake parts). I’m replacing the brakes with Cal Scale. The trucks: No. Replacing with TMW Andrews. Running board is alright but both of mine came a little bent out of shape. Running board detail is poor. Nothing a modeler can’t fix.

Below. Here is the new Rapido car, pretty much right out of the box, next to a Sunshine Milwaukee 714000-series single-sheathed box car. The Rapido car looks great up against the Sunshine models, but it’s got a lot of weathering ahead of it. I’ll need to replace the trucks on the Rapido car with Tahoe Model Works Andrews trucks.

Below. I’ve removed the factory-installed K brakes and am halfway done installing a Cal Scale AB brake set. I retained the brake lever hangars and that was about it. I also replaced the Rapido #5-size couplers with Kadee #58s. I’ve drilled out the turnbuckles and added Tichy bronze .0125-inch wire for the brake rigging.

Below. This photo shows AB brakes installed on my Milwaukee Road car, at top, and my C&NW car at bottom. Once painted and weathered the cars will fit more into my 1949-1950 modeling era.

My Bottom Line: These are great models and I’ll keep them, but a carefully-built Gould/Tichy car with TMW trucks beats this model hands down.

Plans for Modeling Season

Last week I made my modeling plan for this winter. If I can stick to it, in three months I’ll have completed a bunch of models and be on my way to rebuilding the Hermitage Road layout.

  • The plan for November is to continue building new models and finishing unfinished projects.  A lot can be done in 30 days assuming that I have an average of one hour a day to work. 
  • The plan for December is to build a new Hermitage Road layout “box”.  My current layout, seen below, took quite a beating during the move, and—with a lot more space for modeling—I plan to rebuild the layout to be a little bit longer and also incorporate some new tech to the layout.  The track plan will be adjusted somewhat, and I will incorporate the traversing table of course.

Above. The layout took some damage during the move.  Several of the switch machines were broken off, and some of the switches (the ones that control the switch machines) got crushed.  The front fascia was broken in two places, and the Masonite backdrop is warped and needs replacement.

  • Then, in January, I’ll begin laying track on the new layout.  I’ve got a lot of turnouts to build.  Lucky for me I love that work and have slowly been collecting track and parts “in case I needed them”…

Time to get to the basement! – John G

No. 177: The Latvia Railway History Museum

About a month before leaving Germany I took the family on a week-long vacation to Oslo, Norway. On the way we stopped for a few days in Riga, the capital of Latvia, and we absolutely loved it.

Imagine my surprise when–riding a trolley from the airport to our center-city Airbnb–we passed right by something that looked a whole lot like a railroad museum. Sure enough, it was the Latvia Railway History Museum and it was about a mile from our apartment. I went to the museum the next day.

The museum is small, with collection with small locomotives, a model layout, and a lot of memorabilia indoors in an old car barn. The big stuff is all outside–a collection of 40 well-preserved locomotives and pieces of rolling stock. It was great fun and I hope you enjoy the coverage.

Surprisingly there were a lot of Americans in Riga and several of them were in the museum. I heard later that cruise ships tie up here for a day and that’s how all the Americans get here.

The engine pictured above is a Soviet class TE-3 locomotive, built in Kolomna, Russia in the 1960s. It is a heavy freight engine. Compare this to the SD-45, which was first built for American railroads in 1965. This TE-3 would look pretty cool in Seaboard Coast Line stripes.

Above. Here’s a map of the Latvian system. Riga is in the center on the coast.

Below. Inside the museum is a great collection of handcars, signals, and memorabilia. Also included is a huge, automated HO scale layout. The layout was very nice, with catenary and steam and electric locomotives pulling sounds-equipped trains on around on large loops. Check out the station scene below–the layout was thoughtfully built and very prototypical.

Below. This control station was removed from a station in Riga and brought here. Doesn’t that green color remind you of something you’d find in old Soviet Russia?

Below. This is an A class TEP-60 passenger engine, built at the Kolomna Electric Works the former USSR in the mid-1970s, and used for decades in Latvia.

Here’s one of the coolest engines in the collection, below. This is a TE-3, built is the “Riga Wagon Works” in 1966. It looks a lot like a U.S. doodlebug and trailer from the 1920s. Check out those trolley doors!

Below. This is a TEM-2 heavy switcher, built in Russia in 1971. The sign said 10,000 TEM-2s were built by 1971 and were “Soviet Russian copies of ALCO RSC locomotives”.

Below. I didn’t pick up any information on this engine, but an online source said it’s a Class VL-26 electric cargo locomotive, built in 1967 for the Murmansk Railroad in St Petersburg. In addition to picking up power from overhead it has battery packs that allow it to move for short distances on non-electrified tracks. Supposedly, “VL” in the locomotive name stands for “Vladimir Lenin”. The engine was used for a short while in Riga and retired there, and saved for the museum.

Below. Here is the rock star of the outdoor collection. This is a German Type 52 2-10-0 Kriegslokomotive, or War Locomotive, built at Henschel Works in Kassel in 1942. During the war Germany built 7,800 simplified 2-10-0s like this one in just 2-1/2 years. This particular engine was captured by the Russians after the war, re-gauged to Russian five-foot gauge, and put into service in the Soviet “Western Region” which including Belarus, the Baltic States, and Ukraine. It was under steam in Latvia until 1992 when Latvia gained its independence from Russia, then retired, re-gauged and held aside for the museum. What a history!

Below. This is a Russian Class L engine and was the largest steam engine regularly used on the post-World War II Baltic Railways. It is a 2-10-0, and was built in Voroshilovgrad, Russia between 1945 and 1949.

Below. This is a former German house car from the World War I era that has been restored by the museum. According to the museum all they found were the wheels, underframe and metal parts and rebuilt the rest from original plans. It is decorated in World War II-era markings.

Who says there’s no prototype for the horn-hook coupler? This coupler is on a Russian railway crane elsewhere in the museum. Maybe the Russkies copied this from an old Mantua model.

After leaving the museum I hiked back to our apartment in mid-town Riga. On the way I stopped on a big bridge over the Daugava River and took some pictures of Riga’s Soviet-era trolleys that are still in service. I took this photo on the bridge…

…and I took this photo at the stop by the railroad museum. The two cars are a little bit different, but interesting in a vintage Eastern European way.

I hope you enjoyed the little museum stop. The museum’s website can be found at

After Riga we flew to Norway and stayed there a week in a little cottage on a fjord south of Oslo. It was lovely and quiet there. I had planned to go to the Norway National Railway Museum, but it was a 2-1/2 train ride from our Airbnb and I didn’t want to leave the family for a while day. On our last night there, however, I made a brief stop at the NMJ Hobby Shop on the southeastern side of Oslo.

I didn’t know what to expect but I quickly found out that NMJ Norway’s largest model train store. It is literally the Caboose Hobbies of Norway–a massive store full of models, parts, paint, railroadiana, and inspiration.

There are cases and cases of brass locomotives of all types. The engines pictures below are Norwegian prototypes–brass, with full sound and DCC already installed.

The store was a few minutes from closing when I got there, but the owner–Finn Moe–and I hit it off right away. He spoke perfect English; he said he spoke five languages so he could keep up with all his customers. He kept the shop and we talked for an hour, and he took me on a complete tour of the store and explained everything to me. There are prototype railway signs, builders plates, lanterns, and railroadiana everywhere. It was really great!

Like most model shops in Europe, NMJ is full of dioramas. Here’s a different take on steam engine modeling…

Finally, here I am, below, with my new best friend Finn Moe. Finn is the owner of three NMJ stores–there are other stores in Sweden and Koln, Germany). What a gentleman he is. Finn explained that he spent a career in the plastics business and slowly built up the shop on the side. He retired years ago and now runs the shop full time. He develops and imports all the brass and a huge line of highly-detailed plastic rolling stock, and probably a lot more stuff he didn’t mention. Seriously, not only does he run Norway’s version of Caboose Hobbies but he also stocks it as Norway’s version of Overland Models, Walthers and Intermountain.

This place is worth a trip to Oslo by itself. I could’a spent the whole week there.

The NMJ main website is

Hope you guys have a great week! – John G

No. 176: Move-In and New Freight Car Work

Our major shipment of “household goods” arrived from Germany last Friday. My wife and I have spent most of our waking hours putting the house together. It has been A LOT of work.

Included in our household goods was my Hermitage Road layout, the traversing table, five metal cabinets and bookcases, and about 25 plastic tote boxes with model kits and supplies of all kinds. Almost everything arrived unscathed, thankfully. The Hermitage Road layout took a beating so I’ll have to assess whether to try and repair or start over. More to follow on that later.

Here is a photo of two of the cabinets. The packers in Germany simply wrapped up these two items with everything still in the cabinets, and didn’t put any packing material in there to keep the boxes in place. I was watching them but didn’t notice that detail. When we arrived in Illinois and the packing was removed, this is what happened.

The cabinet on the left is what I called “The $20,000 Cabinet” because there were over 200 finished resin models and locomotives in those white boxes. That cabinet also included about 8-10 cardboard parts boxes, several of which “blew up” in transit and spewed parts everywhere. The bookshelf on the right contained book binders and parts boxes, and everything on that arrived in a shambles. When the wrapping was removed parts and magazines and stuff were fell out all over the floor.

I took a lot of care to pack everything else except these couple of cabinets. I think I got really lucky. Obviously, these cabinets were turned upside down at some point. The real heroes here are those white car boxes–they’ve protected models for 30 years and 11 moves and they still soldier on.

A few days later the cabinets had been cleaned and rebuilt (see below). The cars on top are O Scale (Proto48).

My old workbench that I built at Travis AFB in 2002 got a new coat of paint and looks good as new:

We arrived back in Illinois on August 5th. We were able to move into our nice rental home the day we arrived, but we didn’t have any furniture and literally “camped” in it for nine weeks. Three weeks after we arrived we received a small, one-thousand pound shipment of “essential household items” which the military calls Unaccompanied Baggage. My Unaccompanied Baggage shipment also included five plastic totes filled with model kits, tools, and goodies. I told my wife the model boxes were essential for my mental health. Anyway, by August 20th I had everything I needed to set up a temporary workbench and start building models again. Here’s my temporary workbench:

I figured I had six to eight weeks to build up as many models as I could before our major shipment of household goods arrived, so I used what I had to my best advantage. I got a lot done, and I’ll do a short writeup on each car as it gets closer to completion. Here’s a run-down of the work completed.

Below. This is a new Rapido PRR Gla hopper model that I bought before leaving Germany. During the weathering process I really screwed up the finish, so I decided to sandblast it and complete it with Mount Vernon decals. I added new trucks, couplers, corner gussets, and a few wire details. Here it is awaiting paint and Mount Vernon decals.

Below. This is an Atlas 1932 ARA box car model I finished for an SCL Modeler article around 2009. I bought replacement doors from Speedwitch Media about five years ago and finally got around to installing them earlier this year. Along with the new doors I upgrade a bunch of details, but along the way I screwed up the original paint. I sandblasted the car and stored it for the move, and here it is, awaiting new paint and decals.

Below. This is an ancient Red Caboose CGW 1923 box car that I bought online as a decorated kit. My buddy Fenton Wells did one recently and motivated me to do one of my own. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the kit included the correct CGW reverse-Creco doors. Like, Wow! I used a huge number of aftermarket detail parts to upgrade the model, like A-Line stirrups, Cal Scale brake gear, Tahoe Model Works trucks, Hi-Tech brass hoses, and Kadee No. 178 couplers. I made my own running boards from Evergreen 2 x 6 strip styrene. All this car needs is paint touch up and weathering.

This car, below, is a CB&Q Flat Car by Jerry Hamsmith. Jerry sells these and other models independently; I think you can find them on the Resin Car Works site. It’s a nice resin kit with great castings and all the detail bits included, along with a nice decal set. I want to model this one with a lumber load to serve my Hermitage Road layout.

Below. This is an Intermountain 1937 Modified box car that will be finished as an Illinois Central 17000-17999 class car. which were delivered in 1939 from ACF. This model has a lot of after-market details applied, including Cal Scale AB brake gear, Yarmouth wood running boards with bronze support hardware, Yarmouth stirrups, Kadee grabs, Tahoe Double-truss trucks, Kadee scale couplers, and wire details all around. Looking at this picture I see I forgot to add the tow-hooks so I’ll have to go back and get that done.

Below. This resin car is one of the new Westerfield 1921 ARA C&NW box cars. It’s actually an old model, as Andrew Dahm used the original castings done by Frank Hodina for Sunshine Models 20 or more years ago. So it’s kind of a “Wester-shine” model. Andrew’s kit looks great and as a fun build. I finished this car with Cal Scale AB brakes, Yarmouth running board support, Tahoe Andrews trucks, Kadee scale couplers, Yarmouth stirrups and plenty of wire details all around. This is a cool car–very unique.

I bought this car from Bob Heninger just before I left Germany. This is an old Sunshine Missouri Pacific single-sheathed box car with Hutchins ends. It was a very straightforward build. It sure was nice to open up the box and see all that old Sunshine packing and everything. It made me a little nostalgic for the early 2000s. There are a lot of after-market parts on this car too–the same as the C&NW car above.

Here’s a practically one-of-a-kind model I bought from Tim O’Connor back in May, and I had time last month to build it up. Below, here’s a shot of my Sunshine Models Frisco 151000-series extended-height auto car. It’s a cool car but a little odd–a real “high-cube” of the 1940s. It looks like a square block. I’ll write more on this car in the coming months.

I have quite a few other models in progress, including:

Above. This is a B&O M-58 50-foot auto car. Fenton Wells and I had parts made for the car by Chad Boas this Spring. I had trouble getting the rest of the detail parts while I was still living in Germany, but here it is, 99% built up and almost ready for sandblasting. The car core is a Branchline 50-foot double-door car, with replacement roof, ends and doors from Chad, and aftermarket details all over. I did my best to approximate a Duryea underframe without having any reference photos of the actual prototype configuration. My model still needs a few more rivets.

And finally, below, here’s a model I’ve had for six years that’s finally seen the light of day. This is an O scale Intermountain R-40-10 steel refrigerator that I’m finishing as a PFE double-herald car. This is a beautiful kit. I’ve added a few aftermarket parts but only a few because the parts are so nice. I used a San Juan AB air brake set and that alone took two nights to install, but that’s what Proto48—O scale “fine scale”—is all about. The trucks are from Rich Yoder and are spectacular, but so is the price and that’s why I only have a few.

I’ve got a few more projects on the workbench but I’ll save those for the next post or two.

Moving is an outstanding way to renew oneself…to set new goals, explore new things, and learn, and let the change of pace and scenery work it’s magic. I’m happy to be back in a friendly place and I look forward to renewing friendships and enjoying some new modeling challenges. – John G

No. 175: 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.

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