Critical Cars

Lehigh Valley #33599

The latest car to come out of my paint shop is a Lehigh Valley Bethlehem gondola. About 11,000 copies of the Bethlehem design were built in the 1940s and 50s. The bulk of these went to the B&O and its affiliates (CNJ, RDG, WM), but the Lehigh Valley also got 1,450 in three orders. By October of 1966, the remaining 1,332 cars made up over 60% of LV’s 2,188 car gondola roster. Thus, it was the signature car on a regionally important gondola fleet.

LV 33599 at Marshalltown, Iowa in 1968 was from the LV’s last order of BSC gons built in 1952 (LV 33350-33699). Photo by Jim Sands, collection of George Elwood, used with permission.

Tangent Scale Models offers this as a beautifully detailed ready-to-run car today, but I built this one from a Sunshine Models resin kit, which I probably bought in 2006. As has been my habit, I built the kit right away but never got around to painting it. Construction was straight up, I built the car with the kit parts, adding Tangent continuous lading band anchors, Hi-Tech air hoses and Branchline Barber S2 trucks. I loaded up the underframe with lead shot to bring it up to weight.

Painting and Lettering

It took two tries to paint the model correctly. I started with Model Master Oxide Red, which came out too brown. For take two, I mixed Vallejo Model Color Calvary Brown and Dark Red (maybe 60/40 red to brown). This is the first time I’ve airbrushed Model Color and was a little hesitant to use it, as it is really made to brush on. I read some advice online and opted to thin it with their Flow Improver only, instead of their Airbrush Thinner. I also made sure the paint I had was post-2014 ensuring it is cadmium free. Do not spray with older bottles of Vallejo Red and Yellows!! Using 100% flow improver might have been overkill, but it worked great. I painted the wood floor with Polly Scale Concrete. Now I just need to get comfortable with the Vallejo Flat Finish to replace Dullcote.

Finished Sunshine LV Bethlehem Gondola

I lettered and weathered the car based on the below Jim Sands photo. I opted for a repaint scheme since the newest cars would have been 13 years old in 1965. I’ve seen some say this scheme didn’t start until the 1970s, but clearly this car shows otherwise. It looks like it was reweighed at Sayre, PA in July 1965 (“S 7-65” stencil) and last painted well before that, given the amount of rust showing. Decals are a combination of the kit decals and Herald King set G-850 for the large “LEHIGH VALLEY” lettering. I can’t tell if the white mark on the third panel from the right that looks like a flag was done by the railroad or not, but I made them from Microscale Trim Film for the model because I thought it looked neat.

I did weathering as follows. I started with a wash of dark umber oil paint, dark umber rust spots, burnt sienna rust streaks. This was followed by patched repack, reweigh and brake test stencils. Finally, I airbushed on Dullcote and finished with a dusting of Raw Umber Pan Pastels on the body and trucks and Burnt Sienna Shade on the couplers and interior.

This is only #4 of the cars I set out to do last year, but since I completed a bunch of other cars not on the list, I’m OK with that progress. A P&LE exterior post boxcar is next for the paint shop. Thanks also go out to The Hobby Bunker, who moved into Wakefield, MA this Spring and is within walking distance to my house. While they are mostly a military model shop, having a spot for Vallejo products (including all I needed for this car), Evergreen styrene and other tools and supplies nearby is fantastic. Welcome to the neighborhood!



At Last!

A caboose hop with 5 U25Bs and 2 bay window cabooses heads west at Natick, MA in April 1966. Since the B&A never originating may westbound freights over the weekend, Sunday light power and caboose moves were routine on the B&A until the early CSX years. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

As if on cue to get me fired up about working on my layout, Tangent has just released a beautiful model of NYC’s Lot 782 and 827 bay window cabooses. These lots plus other similar cars represented the bulk of cabooses used in through freight service on the NYC. This has been a gaping hole in my roster, as I have taken forever to build the one Wright Trak resin kit in my possession. I have been holding off on buying any more of these or stand-ins from Walthers, Bachmann or Athearn hoping someone would eventually do these in plastic. Place your orders now these are going to go fast!


Summer Doldrums

GP20 2101 on the point of train BA-4 (DeWitt, NY-Boston, MA) setting out a block at Worcester – July 1966. Photo by Tom Murray, my collection.

I haven’t had much to write about this summer. Work on the layout ground to a halt and now my wife wants to think about either adding onto the house or moving which isn’t going to help things…and with my work situation up in the air for at least another year that isn’t going to get resolved any time soon.

On the bright side that may make me simplify the construction of the layout to get the unbuilt parts finished. We also added access to our attic which will let me declutter the basement making it a more comfortable place to work. I also acquired a slide scanner so I can now share some of the photos I’ve taken and collected. Anyway, I have started getting some small projects done and will have some content coming through the fall.

Critical Cars, Traffic Research

Critical Cars: AC&F “Flexi-Flo” PD 3500

The American Car & Foundry’s 3500 cubic foot, pressure differential covered hopper (PD3500) built for the New York Central in the mid-1960s was one of the most distinctive covered hopper designs of all time. Only 220 were built, but their long service life, distinctive graphics and concentration in the populous Northeast have made them a must-have model for many. Those of us who need these cars are fortunate that Rapido has recently released versions of all three lots in HO scale.

The models are excellent, a quick tune up. For me modeling them only a few months old, a shot of Dullcote and some light weathering and they are ready for the road. While there isn’t much more to say about the models, how these cars came into existence and the role they played in helping railroads adapt to changing times is an interesting story.

Rapido’s models are a spot-on match. They just need a good weathering job to get on the layout.


In the 1960s, railroads were seeing their traffic erode on all fronts due to increased competition from alternate modes of transportation. This trend even began to attack bulk commodities that were once considered “safe”. One of these commodities was cement. In the Hudson Valley around Albany, there were nine cement mills that supplied much of New York and New England’s cement. New York Central served seven of these directly. After the opening of superhighways across this territory and the development of the pneumatic dry bulk trailer, these plants diverted significant tonnage to truck. The NYC was looking for a way to get this traffic back and the Flexi-Flo concept was the result. 

Central’s president, Al Perlman, summarized the Flexi-Flo development at an ICC hearing in October of 1965,

…a few years ago [cement] moved almost exclusively by rail in covered hoppers. The great convenience of jobsite delivery by truck, and the difficulty and expense of transfer from rail hopper to truck storage, thence to truck for jobsite delivery, led to widespread decentralization of the cement industry, despite the fact that centralized cement production offered great production cost advantages. If these production cost savings were to be passed along to the consumer, a new transportation tool had to be found.

The Central met that challenge by the development of the Flexi-Flo car, a covered hopper of 125-ton capacity with a pressure differential (PD) device. The car moves from production point to terminal where it is unloaded, as the cement is needed, into pressure differential-equipped trucks. Differences in pressure within the truck’s hopper and the rail car hopper permit loading the truck in a matter of minutes. Flexi-Flo reduces the cost of basic transportation, eliminates the need for storage in transit, and permits the ultimate consumer to share in the benefits of all these cost reductions, including that of centralized production of cement.

Excerpt from January 1966 Central Headlight. NYCSHS collection, used with permission.

While the concept of team tracks is as old as railroading itself, the NYC innovated with Flexi-Flo by creating a full service business model tailored to the specialized needs of dry and liquid bulk shippers, combining new concepts in cars, terminals and operations making it much more user-friendly and economical at the same time.

The Cars

New York Central specified a car with a 315,000 pound gross weight (315K) to take full advantage of the heavy-duty capability of its core mainlines. The cars had a load limit of 245,200 lbs., allowing them to hold six truckloads of product each – a critical factor when trying to win business back from the highway. The specific gravity of powdered cement dictated a 3500 cubic foot capacity. To emphasize how far ahead of the times NYC was consider that the standard railcar gross weight was 220K, there still isn’t a national 315K network in 2020 and some short lines and regional railroads are still struggling to get their bridges upgraded to 286K.

The cars were delivered to NYC in four batches as outlined in the roster below. They each differed slightly from each other. The most obvious spotting characteristic were the vertical side ribs on the first batch of 25 cars. One has to look closely to spot the differences between the next two lots. The final NYC group was made up of five 3600 cubic foot tank type covered hoppers built for BF Goodrich. They are included for reference but are a totally different car design.

NumbersQty.LotYearSide ReinforcementsHatch Dia.Wheel Dia.

With the exception of 7 cars built for AC&F’s Shippers Car Line lease fleet, these wound up being unique cars to the NYC. The 3500 cubic foot design had great economics, but the limited number of routes that could handle 315K cars probably led to Penn Central’s decision to specify a 3000 cubic foot, 263K limit design for the next batch of PD cars in 1974.

From left to right, cars from the first, third and fifth orders of Flexi-Flo covered hoppers at Bridge One in Cleveland, Ohio in the late 1970s. Note the vertical stiffeners on the first car. The fifth batch was PC’s 1974 order of North American Car PD3000s. PC would also add 2600 cubic foot Airslide covered hoppers to the Flexi-Flo fleet as well. George Elwood photo, used with permission


Flexi-Flo cars at Framingham, Mass. circa 1965. Note the cement streaks starting to show up, new cement cars get dirty fast. This was the photo I used as a reference for weathering my cars. Tad Arnold photo, Bob Arnold collection (used with permission)

Flexi-Flo terminals consisted of one or more tracks to hold cars while they were unloaded, a driveway parallel to the track wide enough for trucks to turn around, pneumatic equipment to pump the product, a truck scale and an office. The first Flexi-Flo terminal was opened at Big Four Yard in Avon, Ind. near Indianapolis in May of 1964.

Ceremonial opening of the Syracuse Flexi-Flo terminal. Central Headlight – courtesy of the New York Central Historical Society.

Through the Penn Central merger, NYC opened 10 additional terminals, in the following order (dates are approximate):

  • Rochester, N.Y, – 9/64
  • Buffalo, N.Y. – 1/65
  • Syracuse, N.Y. – 3/65
  • Framingham, Mass. – 9/65
  • Louisville, Ky.
  • North Bergen, N.J. – 4/66
  • Charleston, W.Va.
  • Boston, Mass.
  • Hammond, Ind. – 7/67
  • Cleveland/Collinwood, Ohio – 11/67

Generally speaking, the railroad opened the first terminals to create a distribution network for Hudson Valley cement. They then pivoted to handle general liquid and bulk commodities, starting with the Louisville terminal.

A Framingham switcher pulls empty autoracks from the auto distribution terminal back to the yard, June 1966. In the center of the photo is the Flexi-Flo cement terminal. Leroy Dozier photo, George Elwood collection, used with permission.

The Framingham terminal was located around the wye with the Milford Branch and on the site of the freight house, which was demolished to make way for this project. A 1966 USGS aerial photo shows 20 cars spotted there. If those are all Flexi-Flo cars, and based on period photos I believe they are, that is 1/5 of the fleet at that time. Obviously Framingham was one of the busiest terminals in the network and probably the top destination of the PD3500 fleet. The terminal continued to serve cement customers into the middle of the 1980s when bankruptcies and mergers in the cement industry led to major changes in the distribution network. Any remaining activity was consolidated with the Boston Flexi-Flo operation at that time.

Framingham Flexi-Flo terminal, March 9, 1966. USGS aerial photo.

The Boston terminal was located off the Sears Lead on the north side of the MassPike and was built in concert with the total reconstruction of Beacon Park Yard brought on by the Turnpike’s construction. In later years, as carload freight in and out of Boston declined, the terminal was moved into the middle of Beacon Park Yard. With the closure of Beacon Park, CSX moved it again to Westborough, under their Transflo brand.

Beacon Park freight terminal April 9, 1969. The Flexi-Flo yard is filled with a mix of covered hoppers and tank cars. It looks so full that the circulatory truck access has been blocked. Notice that there are 49 boxcars spotted at the freight houses, an indication that the freight forwarder business was still brisk. USGS aerial photo.


The NYC needed the Flexi-Flo cement service to succeed so it could serve as a example of what the new concept could achieve. Given what was at stake, these cars received priority handing, both loaded and empty to ensure fast car cycles. Loads moved east on BA-6 from Selkirk, N.Y. to Framingham, arriving late afternoon/early evening. Most likely, cars were spotted overnight to not disrupt the unloading process during the day. Empties would move out the following morning on a westbound extra to Selkirk. Feeders from Selkirk to Kingston and Hudson connected the cement mills to Selkirk Yard.

NYC train BA-6 from Selkirk to Boston at Ashland, Mass. June, 1966 carrying a block of Flexi-Flo cement loads three cars from the headpin. All the cars visible here are to be set off at Framingham. Donald Haskel photo, used with permission.


The Flexi-Flo cars served a long life with PC, CR. Conrail transferred some cars to Merchants Despatch before selling off the fleet. Some users in later years included Pfizer/Specialty Minerals for limestone out of both Canaan, Conn. and Adams, Mass. as well as Dragon Products at Thomaston, Maine for cement. The last cars aged out of interchange service in 2016. Recently Conrail 80019 (built as NYC 885739) was donated by CSX to Conrail Historical Society for preservation at the Danbury Railroad Museum in Connecticut. This is thought to be the only surviving Flexi-Flo hopper – lasting because it was converted to a scale test car.

The Flexi-Flo brand was continued by Penn Central and Conrail and expanded to other locations in later years. Other railroads followed suit with branded, full-service bulk team track operations to the point where a network of such terminals is considered a necessary service for all the Class I railroads – underscored by CSX’s purchase of liquid bulk trucker Quality Carriers this week. This is the true legacy of Flexi-Flo and a lasting testament to the creativity of NYC under the Perlman administration.


Savage Services bulk rail transload, Hammond, Ind. – ex-NYC Flexi-Flo terminal present day. Google Earth image


The Story of Flexi-Flo, Central Headlight, January 1966

Flexi-Flo Sales Brochure (from mid-1966)

Critical Cars, Traffic Research

A C&O Insulated Boxcar Build

Completed model of C&O 5500, an insulated boxcar built in 1960 by the C&O shops. I modified the sill on a Branchline kit without having to do a full repaint.

Branchline Trains’ boxcar kits (not RTR) of the early 2000s remain one of the best values for models of rolling stock. I purchased this kit for maybe $10 at a train show. It was really intended to be a fleet filler, but I wound up doing a decent amount of work on it, resulting a nice car.

The prototype for this kit is an 8′ RBL with a Youngstown flush door based on a car built by General American in 1957. This basic design was purchased by many buyers, but by the early 1960s the 10′ door along with a cushioned underframe had become the preferred equipment, thus the 8′ plug door car may represent about a quarter of 50′ RBL equipment of the mid-1960s.

C&O 5613 at Lttle Rock, Ark. in the 1970s. George Elwood photo, used with permission.


In the back of my head I knew that C&O RBL and did show up fairly regularly in New England and that they had a decent sized roster of these cars but I wasn’t too sure it was a great addition. Research shows that the C&O did roster about 1100 RB, RBL and XMLI cars in 1966. Of these 248 were 50′ cars with 8′ doors, with 149 in the series 5500-5649. The most common car on the roster was a 50′ car with 10′ 6″ doors, there were close to 600. So the 5500s aren’t unusual cars, but certainly not the most common.

Insulated boxcars, like auto parts boxcars, were often part of pools of cars with other railroads for specific shippers. As a result a car from the C&O might be assigned to Miller Beer in Milwaukee and be shipped to Boston over a route of MILW-Chicago-NYC never touching the rails of its owner. Still, the origin road would have a disproportionate share of the cars in one of those pools and a large road like C&O would have most of its cars assigned to its own shippers, so let’s look at tonnage of commodities requiring insulation, but not refrigeration on the C&O to find a typical use.

By process of elimination, we can be sure that the second car of this Boston-Saxonville local turn at Natick, Mass. in the fall of 1966 is a C&O 5500 series RBL. The Saxonville Branch was home to many distribution related companies including the main Zayre distribution center – now the site of successor TJX’s headquarters. Donald Haskel photo, used with permission.

RBL Commodities on the C&O

Using the Freight Commodity Statistics we can get an idea of the top commodities originated, terminated, bridged or handled locally on many Class I railroads. Since the last year this data is available is 1963, I have to use that, but that should be close enough.

In a joint Dow, Pullman-Standard and C&O publicity photo showing a brand new PS-1 being loaded with palletized chemicals at the Dow plant in Midland, MI. Pullman-Standard Library/James Kinkaid collection, used under creative commons license.
CommodityTotal CarsTotal TonsTons FWDEst Fwd Cars
Food Products NOS in cans and packages33435104110734602311112
Soap and Cleaning Compounds321023986135891819
Malt Liquor (Beer)7162243811604571776
Beverages, NOS69343793102916
Estimated Forwarded Cars is the result of dividing forwarded tons by total tons per car (Total tons divided by total cars) – Source Freight Commodity Statistics of Class I Railroads – 1963.

This analysis clearly shows that canned and packaged food products are far and away the typical RBL type commodity originated on the C&O. Furthermore beer was not shipped to New England in volume from C&O’s territory. C&O would have had many cars in the Proctor & Gamble pool for soap shipments out of Ivorydale (Cincinnati), Ohio. According to the ICC Carload Waybill Statistics TC-3 report from 1965 though, the bulk of the soap shipments within the Official Territory were intermodal moves. This means that NYC’s Flexi-Van service from Cincinnati to Worcester and Boston would get the lion’s share of those moves. Still, I’ve found photos of P&G RBL loads at Framingham.


So if this car is going to represent a food shipment to the Boston area, what would be some typical shippers? We can make some educated guesses by first figuring out where a shipment most likely would come from. Looking at the 1965 reporting for STCCs 203 (Food) and 2099 (Food products NOS), the states served by C&O rank as follows in terms of carloads in the waybill sample:

  • Illinois (95/270 = 365)
  • Ohio (64/111 = 175)
  • Indiana (34/78 = 112)
  • Michigan (60/26 = 86)
  • Virginia (35/18 = 53)
  • West Virginia (-/7 = 7)

While Ill., Ohio and Ind. rank high, C&O’s market share in those states is small compared to other carriers. In Michigan though, the ex-Pere Marquette routes dominated the agricultural region of the state giving them a strong share. While Michigan did not show up in the 1965 State-To-State moves of 203 or 2099 products to Massachusetts, it did pop at 11 cars in the 1963 data of Food Products NOS. Some searching turned up a few large Michigan shippers on the C&O:

  • Gerber, Fremont, Mich.
  • Michigan Fruit Canners, St. Joseph, Mich
  • Dailey Pickle, Saginaw, Mich.
  • Heinz (pickles), Saginaw, Mich.
  • WR Roach, Croswell, Mich.

Additional smaller canneries operated in Western Michigan (especially the fruit growing region around Traverse City). Long story short, I can realistically operate this car on my layout.

Branchline C&O RBL Model

With the rationale behind the model established let’s look the build. I already had three Branchline RBL’s on my roster when I acquired this one. In order to differentiate this one and make it a more correct model, I modified the sill with a fishbelly profile using plans that appear to be from this car in the 1966 Car & Locomotive Cyclopedia. I spliced the new sill on and cut away part of the old sill. To blend the joint line away, I applied putty over the seam and sanded it flush. I added a few rivets where the underframe met the sill and airbrushed on a coat of Vallejo Model Golden Yellow.


While not one of the prototype cars I was modeling, I used this 1965 photo at Watertown, Mass. of a 40′ C&O PS-1 as a guide for the paint patches and weathering. Leroy Dozier photo, collection of George Elwood, used with permission.

Weathering was a bit more of a challenge on this car than my typical boxcar. Brightly painted cars are just harder for me to do a good job on, so I sought to alter my techniques on this one. To try and get something that resembled the prototype photo I tried fading the paint with a wash of pastel yellow oil paint first. I wasn’t convinced this was going to work, so I only did it on one side. This was followed by a wash of raw umber oil paint and an application of Dullcote.

I had to mask several areas before applying the Pan Pastels since the road grime tended to settle in some spots and avoid others. Rivets seemed to suck up the dust and keep it from settling on the car. Plug door cars typically accumulate road grime on the door surrounding the door posts, but not directly under them. To properly mask this area I left the door posts off the car until I was done with the Pan Pastels.

Here is the initial Pan Pastel application with the rivet strips masked.
Masking removed and Pan Pastels blended with a large soft brush.

When I removed the masking, I colored the rivets with a colored pencil and sealed all with another application of Dullcote. Final detailing and painting included patched repack, reweigh and brake test stencils, Tangent uncoupling levers, Hi-Tech air hoses and a Kadee running board. All the extra work with the weathering was worth it. As for the faded yellow effect, it worked great and I wished I had used it on both sides of the car, I will just be careful not to build the paint up on the rivets next time.

This is, by far, the nicest job I’ve done weathering a yellow or orange car to date, so I wound up building a nicely detailed and needed car, while learning some new techniques in the progress…all from a $10 purchase, you can’t ask for more out of a project than that.


Critical Cars

BECCO Tank Cars

I came across these photos today while I was browsing Lee Dozier’s photos on George Elwood’s Fallen Flags website. The bulk of Lee’s rolling stock photos are from Framingham, Lowell and Watertown, MA during 1965-68, so they are an excellent resource for me. I almost went right by these, but some prior research kicked in and I put the puzzle together. BECCO was short for Buffalo Electro-Chemical Corp. and was a division of FMC. The company is still in business as Peroxychem LLC. According to the 1963 NYC Freight delivery circular, they had production facilities in Buffalo/Tonawanda, NY served by NYC and EL. It also shows they had a facility in Framingham, Mass. on the NYC, which was a distribution/packaging operation. Loads would have come east in BA-2/BA-4 and empties would go west probably in BB-1.

Since these pictures were basically uncaptioned, it took a minute for me to realize what I was looking at but I did put 2 and 2 together. I did a check on Google Earth and found the building is still standing on the north side of the CSX Nevins Yard, although no longer a chemical plant. These three pictures now aren’t random tanks to me, but illustrate the fleet of one of the B&A’s mid-sized customers. Clearly, I need to add one of these cars to my roster at some point, the question will be how, models of welded 4000 and 6000 chemical tank cars are hard to come by. A tank built from Plastruct tube and domes on an underframe from another kit might be the way to go…something to think about.



Maps with Inkscape

I fell down another rabbit hole recently and finally figured out how to make nice maps. I’ve always loved studying and drawing maps. In the railroad business it is “no map, no meeting” according to the famed railroader Jim McClelland. I had, for years, done lousy work using Paint to illustrate concepts, while it gets the point across, the results are really unprofessional.

In my post on anthracite coal, I really wanted to include a map to illustrate the various tariff routes between the coal region and the B&A. I attempted a version in Paint and junked it because it was going to be too much work for a lousy result. A week later I needed to create some maps for work. Although the results would have been good enough, I was really sick of working with Paint. With that I went out looking for something better to use. George Sebastian-Coleman of Trains says they use Adobe Illustrator, which I’m sure is great but you need to pay a monthly subscription to use. I went looking for a freeware replacement for Adobe Illustrator and found Inkscape.

To quote Wikipedia,

Inkscape is a free and open source vector graphics editor used to create vector images, primarily in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format. Other formats can be imported and exported.

Inkscape can render primitive vector shapes (e.g. rectangles, ellipses, polygons, arcs, spirals, stars and 3D boxes) and text. These objects may be filled with solid colors, patterns, radial or linear color gradients and their borders may be stroked, both with adjustable transparency. Embedding and optional tracing of raster graphics is also supported, enabling the editor to create vector graphics from photos and other raster sources. Created shapes can be further manipulated with transformations, such as moving, rotating, scaling and skewing.

I read a little about the basics of Inkscape and then found a tutorial for hobby map making online at Deviant Art. I followed along and created a map of the Akron Canton & Ohio’s line across the Buckeye State. AC&Y is about as simple a railroad to map as can be imagined a good choice. Every step took some effort to work through, but I got it done. With that done, I had a much better idea on how to attack a more serious project.

First Real Result

With the basics under my belt I then put together a map for my blog post. On this one, I watched some YouTube tutorials as I went along and learned some short cuts. For base maps, I used a snip of Norfolk Southern’s 2016 system map as the primary map and also fitted an old map of the anthracite fields over it so I could outline those areas. Below you can see what I was able to come up with. I hit pretty close to the mark I was aiming for. That I was able to do something like this almost from jump street speaks to how easy the software was to learn to use (or at least learn to use when you really want to learn).

Looking at it in the light of day, I see a bunch of stuff I’d do differently now that I know more about the tools and how it looks when posted through WordPress. First off, saving the SVG as a PNG file reduces the size and pixilates the image, then posting to WordPress further reduces the size.

Opening these in a new window, by right clicking on it it and selecting the first option in the drop down menu, produces an image only abut 5% larger, but with much better appearance. If I were to redo this one I would use slightly larger and more readable fonts, improve the contrast for the state labels and turn the basemap onto the north-south access. I will also be able to do a better job with the coast line next time too.

Another One

With that under my belt, I went out and tried to duplicate the style that Trains used in the early 1990s. I charted out the surviving routes of Erie Lackawanna, just to have something to do (also in honor of Conrail Day 4/1/76!). I quit before I was finished, mainly because I proved to myself that this was a workable program and I wasn’t all that interested in the final result….you can check out how far I got below (again, this wasn’t designed to have the file compressed to post on WordPress – the printed version on 11 x 17″ paper looks perfect).

Open in a new tab for a better view. This map needed a legend, revisions to show New Jersey Transit ownership with freight trackage rights around New Jersey and a listing of abbreviations, but continued to prove the concept.

All that said, for a first try, I am really happy with the way this came out and will be able to do the next ones much faster. I might try and duplicate the style Trains used in the 1960’s to illustrate topics on this site (lots of Futura and bold Century Gothic) or try to match their current style which usually features a highly transparent satellite image below. Another skill added to the toolbox.



Freight Car Additions

After making some progress on benchwork, I took a bit of a break. To get back into the swing of things I finished a bunch of freight cars that had been on my workbench. Here are the first three to be completed:

The finished P&LE Lot 801-G car, ready for a load of steel products.

P&LE Greenville Gondola

The NYC and P&LE combined to own 12,600 52′ 6″ long gondolas built to the so-called “Greenville Design” (counting the last 1000 P&LE cars which are all welded and excluded from other rosters). I believe this is the second largest group of mill gons operating in the US during the 1950s and 60s (the largest being the PRR G31/G35 cars). Proto 2000 and now Walthers has had a well-detailed model of this car available for quite some time now. The early kits can still be found a train shows for bargain prices.

NYC switched from reddish brown red to black for the body color of gondolas during June of 1956. For whatever reason the black paint scheme has never been run by Life-Like or Walthers. While NYC and P&LE had a huge fleet of these cars, only about 2000 of them are an exact match for the Proto 2000 model (wood floors and interior folding stake pocket/lading band anchors). As such only these numbers have been run in factory paint. Since I needed to custom paint a car to get this scheme, I opted to also make some additional changes to differentiate this car from others on the roster.

I found plans of a steel floor car on George Elwood’s Fallen Flags web site (link). I used Micro Mark rivets laid out on .020″ styrene sheet cut to match the original floor dimensions. Additional relief for the splice plates and bolster covers were cut from 005″ styrene. Additional plate and rivet detail was added to the car sides. NYC’s Greenville gons all had ladders on the sides instead of grab irons. I used spare parts already on hand for those. I also added continuous lading band anchors from Tangent. Not many NYCS cars had these, but they are much easier to do than the exterior tie down loops that most cars had. Since I was modeling a car with lading band anchors I carved off the cast on interior tie downs/folding stake pockets.

The rest of the car was built per kit instructions with the exception of A-Line sill steps, Hi-Tech Air hoses and Tangent uncoupling levers. I painted the car Model Master black and lettered it using at least five different decal sets. Mask Island sells a P&LE gondola set now that would work for this car, but I had enough marks on hand to do this without a dedicated set. Weathering was done with a wash of raw umber oil paint, followed by Dullcote and a dusting of pan pastels. I used Raw Umber for the exterior and trucks, Burnt Sienna for the interior and Burnt Sienna Shade for the couplers.

The car prior to weathering. Decals from Highball, Rail Yard Models (logo, paint triangles), Mark Vaughn (data), Microscale (data, “McKR”, end lettering) and Champ (repack, reweigh) were used to decal the car.

NYC 40′ PS-1

The finished car – a wreck rebuilt into a solid model of one of railroading’s most typical cars.

NYC owned the fifth largest fleet of 40′ PS-1 boxcars at 5000 standard copies (plus 25 Pacemaker cars with an experimental cushion underframe), so this is another must-have car for really anyone modeling the ’50s or ’60s regardless of their prototype. This car has been on my roster for a long time and was beat up from traveling to train shows. To fix it, I pretty much had to strip all the details off and replace them. I didn’t go to great lengths on this car, NYC’s PS-1s had poling pockets (resulting in tabs where the sill steps attach) and towing staples, since this car had been assembled already I opted to ignore those details and stick to the basics. I replaced the following:

  • Running board – Kadee
  • Broken Stirrups – Kadee
  • Broken Ladders – from another Intermountain kit on hand
  • Trucks – Kato ASF A-3
  • Uncoupling Levers – Tangent
  • Air Hoses – Hi Tech
  • Brake Wheel – Kadee Miner
NYC PS-1 from Lot 798-B (built, Michigan City, IN 1950). Jim Sands photo, George Elwood collection, used with permission.

I weathered the car with a wash of oil pants. I then added the repack/reweigh paint patches and decals based on the Jim Sands photo above. After airbrushing on Dullcote I gave it a light dusting of Pan Pastels. Chalk marks were drawn on with a white colored pencil using period prototype photos as a guide.

The roof got major attention, my current “weathered galvanized roof” technique is a multi-layer one. I brush on a coat of Polly Scale BAR Gray to start. When that dries after a few minutes I dab on SP Lettering Gray with a stiff bristle brush followed by a dusting of Neutral Gray Pan Pastels to blend it all together. Lastly I go back and hand paint the ribs between the panels the appropriate color.

Another car halfway through the roof treatment. Make sure to mask the car, I didn’t on the next car and wound up with gray spots all over it that I had to remove or cover up!

NYC AAR Postwar Boxcar

Completed Lot 773-B boxcar, still advertising NYCs discontinued LCL service. This was an inexpensive train show purchase.

Another common boxcar on the NYCS roster was the postwar AAR boxcar with typical 1949-54 combination of early R-3-4 improved dreadnaught ends and diagonal panel roof (I just use “1949 AAR” in my notes, even if that isn’t the most accurate description). The 1949 AAR design numbered 3000 on the NYC and 4000 on the P&LE. Branchline had produced kits with several correct schemes. This one came lettered with the Pacemaker slogan, correct for lot 773-B (these cars weren’t intended for Pacemaker service, they just advertised it). The 1960s boxcar fleet was relatively young, so there aren’t many chances to model a rustbucket but a photo in the NYC Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment Volume 2 gave me the inspiration to do just that with this car.

Closeup of photo from NYC Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment Volume 2 by Morning Sun Books. This car was not the subject of the photo, only the left side of the car is in the frame. I had to use this to imagine the other half of the car.

For this car I did the heavily rusted sections after the initial oil wash dried. I masked off along the straight lines along the panel seams and dabbed on burnt umber oil paint with a deerfoot brush. I then added the paint patches and used Microscale roman stencil alphabets to try and match the prototype lettering (not great but close enough). The roof and details were more or less the same as the Intermountain PS-1 above.


With detailed freight cars selling in the $50 range it is nice to bang out a handful of projects in the $20 range (including details). Weathering cars is also a great way to get back in the groove of things after taking a break from modeling for a bit. It also feels good to get these done as they’ve been on my workbench for some time now. I’ve got a pair more cars that should be finished shortly. I’ll post photos when they are done.

Traffic Research

Freight Flows: Anthracite Coal

A quartet of U25Bs make a move in the Nevins Yard in Framingham during June of 1966. In the background is the shed of Framingham Coal, a one-time Hudson Coal dealer and affiliate to Claflin-Sumner. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

In the first half of the 20th Century, anthracite coal was a major commodity of Northeastern railroads. It seems like every station on every railroad had at least one coal retailer. After World War II, the nation accelerated its transition to other fuels and these facilities vanished from the landscape. As I sketched out plans for the Claflin-Sumner Ludlow Street coal yard I wanted to get a better sense of what the volumes and traffic patterns would look like in a mid-1960s setting to better model these shipments. To figure that out, I dug into the Carload Waybill and Freight Commodity Statistics for Class I railroads. Here is what I found.


While the B&A isn’t a railroad usually associated with anthracite, the numbers show it had a significant share of the area’s hard coal – about 20%.

Anthracite volumes 1930-1965. B&A data after 1948 is estimated from MA data based on B&A’s 1948 market share. B&A 1930 and 1933 carloads estimated by using B&M tons per car for those years.
When coal was king the B&A handled over a million tons a year. Major terminals like this 5,000 ton bunker on the corner of Grafton and Franklin St. in Worcester were common. As the industry retrenched, it reverted back to small, simple sheds.

The data showed that tonnage declined dramatically with the onset of the Great Depression and then stabilized with a little bump from WWII. After the war there was a major conversion to home heating oil and natural gas. Over 80% of the tonnage was lost between 1948 and 1958. By 1963, the B&A was down to less than 2 cars per day – about 4% of the tonnage from 1930 when they were handling 48 cars per day.

Still, a couple cars a day isn’t zero. Maybe half of that volume terminated east of Springfield, so a car in a through freight every other session works out about right. What about the coal yard at Jamesville though? It appears that it closed not long after 1960, it’s sister yard on Webster Street stayed open past 1966 though and a dozen other yards were open in the city during 1963. With that in mind, it isn’t a stretch to use a little modeler’s license to extend its life.

Origins and Routes

All anthracite was mined in Northeastern PA in four fields. The northern field around Scranton-Wilkes Barre declined dramatically after the mines flooded in a tragic accident in 1955. The other three fields to the south fared a little better. The Anthracite Coal Division 1965 Annual Report published by the Department of Mines and Mineral Industries of Pennsylvania (link) showed hundreds of mine sites still in operation with 140 preparation plants processing coal (breakers, washeries etc…). The top coal producing companies were the following [company, tons produced, breakers used (location – if different, serving RR)]:

  • Glen Alden Corp. (Blue Coal) 2,111,988 Huber (Ashley, CNJ), Loree (Larksville ex-Hudson Coal, D&H )
  • Lehigh Valley Anthracite 1,461,675 Hazleton Shaft (LV), Morea (PRR), Dorrance (Wilkes-Barre, EL ex-L&WV), Loomis (Hanover Township, EL ex-DL&W – closed 6/65), Mammoth (Raven Run, LV)
  • Reading Anthracite 1,287,293 St. Nicholas (RDG), New St. Nicholas (Duncott, RDG), Trevorton (RDG)
  • Greenwood Mining (ex-Lehigh Coal & Navigation) 762,861 Greenwood (Coaldale, RDG ex L&NE)
  • Glen Nan Coal Co. 649,618 Glen Lyon (PRR), Bel Air (Old Forge, LV)
  • Jeddo-Highland Coal Co. 643,678 Jeddo #7 (Harleigh, LV), Highland #5, Lion (Cunningham Coal, Hazleton, LV), Midvalley Fine Coal Plant (Wilburton, LV)

By 1963 the Class I railroads originating this traffic had contracted to the six carriers listed below:

RailroadLocalForwardedTotal Originated
Anthracite tonnage volume from the 1963 Freight Commodity Statistics for Class I Railroads publication – this is the last year that individual railroad statistics were listed

The category we are most interested here are the tons forwarded, since all the traffic to Massachusetts would fall into this category. Lehigh Valley and Reading led the pack by a wide margin. Although Reading’s totals include the Jersey Central, CNJ’s tonnage was always smaller and was hit badly by the collapse of the northern field. It is interesting to see that the Pennsy was the third overall in anthracite tonnage originated, but 2/3 of it stayed local to the PRR.

A Lehigh Valley hopper at Framinginam in January 1966. The LV was the leading anthracite carrier in 1965. The car is a variation of the offset design featuring ribs. Don Haskel photo, used with permission.

Routes to the Boston & Albany from these origins include the following based on a 1947 New York Central routing guide:

  • E-L (D)-Utica-NYC (E/WS)-Selkirk-NYC (B)
  • E-L (E)-Binghamton-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • PRR-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • CNJ-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
  • LV-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B) or LV-National Jct.-NYC (WS)-Selkirk-NYC (B)
  • RDG-Haucks-CNJ-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B) or RDG-Allentown/Quakeake-LV-Wilkes-Barre-D&H-Albany-NYC (B)
This map was a test image, right click on it to open in a new tab for a clearer version.

This shows the the D&H, which had the most direct route from the B&A to the anthracite region, enjoyed the lion’s share of the traffic to the B&A. As the B&A’s only direct connection to the anthracite region, it should not come as a surprise that several of the large dealers on the line, incluing Claflin-Sumner, sold Hudson Coal – a D&H affiliate. Hudson Coal was acquired by Glen Alden in 1963. So while LV and RDG led carriers handling hard coal, the B&A’s long term ties with the D&H may have given them a larger market share on this line. Regardless of routing, all cars from all these routes would come east in BA-6 and return west on a BV extra.

About 15-20% of the business on the B&A was overhead. New Haven and B&M didn’t participate in any through routes with the NYC to the origin carriers over the B&A. That may mean that the bridge traffic went to the CV at Palmer, G&U at North Grafton plus the NYC Harlem Division and Rutland at Chatham, NY.


Rochdale Fuel in Rochdale, MA typical of larger northeast retailers. A trestle ran through the middle of the building, locomotives were not permitted to run on it per the rules in the employee timetable. Jack Leonard Photo, Barb Hudson collection, used with permission.

In 1963 there were still over a dozen retail dealers on the B&A proper from Worcester to Boston that were listed in the Freight Delivery Circular as receiving coal. These are only customers served at common points with outer lines. Perhaps there were two dozen firms still using B&A routings. That gives an average of one car every 12 days on average. Since I model winter, and Claflin-Sumner was a bigger firm, maybe a single car every 8-10 sessions is appropriate.

Barney Coal in Milford in 1975. While this industry was on the New Haven, it was open to reciprocal switching from the B&A. The main building survives in 2021 as does their sidetrack, but the sheds are gone. Although they haven’t received a hopper in many years, Barney may be the last coal dealer with a serviceable rail siding in all of New England. DigitalCommonwealth photo, used under Creative Commons license.


The retail coal business was on its last legs in 1965. The infrastructure to support the massive volumes of years past was already disappearing, although much was still in place. What was left was closed or vastly underutilized. The Claflin-Sumner yard should reflect this decline and look run-down and only receive limited shipments.

Layout Construction

One Bite at a Time

Redesigning on the fly. The XtrackCAD drawing has been revised, printed and laid out to satisfaction. Now to figure out the particulars with the benchwork modifications.

I’ve been making some progress on a bunch of small construction projects. Hopefully I can keep the momentum going. Here is what I’ve been up to:


I have banged out most of the open grid work I need to do to finish things. The entire staging yard is ready for subroadbed now and I did the sections around the back door including a lift out section. I also cut a notch in a partition wall so the yard could cut the corner.

The 45 degree corner of the benchwork. Cutting the ends to 22.5 degree angles was actually a fun learning project.

I’m not happy with the lift out, though, it is too big and I am feeling less confident of all the tracks crossing gaps at skewed angles. I’m rebuilding it ASAP with a simpler design based on Lance Mindheim’s blog post (link), albeit on a curve. It will be sceniced but with next to no relief. This is going to sacrifice some realism, but will be easier to store, less likely to warp and should operate more reliably.

The rebuilt corner will feature a joint roughly where the ruler is vs. the skewed one that was built to accommodate a rectangular lift out section. A low backdrop is planned to partially conceal the spray booth vent and window.


I built Jamesville Yard on a pair of hollow core doors capped with a layer of foam and a ceiling tile. Others have had success with this, but my yard bows up like a “U” in the spring from the humidity. This is very noticeable even from the side, if I were modeling a branchline it would not be a big deal, but it doesn’t look right on a main.

I have been meaning to strengthen this when it dries out in cold, dry weather but I missed my chance last year. Not taking any chances this year I added the fascia and some extra support as soon as the bow disappeared completely this year. What a huge difference a little thing like that makes visually. I also was able to fix the lighting on my workbench which is on a desk below, and that is a huge improvement too. Let’s hope the yard stays straight when the humidity comes back.

Claflin-Sumner Coal

The photo from Jack Leonard from my last post gave me just enough of a glimpse of the coal yard that I could finally do a decent mockup of it. I used the dimensions from the 1950 Sanborn map and estimated the height above the rail from the picture. I used a 12:1 pitch on the roof, which is about as low as anyone goes in New England. With that drawn out I figured out the depth below the rail using a 10′ height on the low side. This meant I needed another half inch below grade for the building to sit properly. So I ripped out 1″ of foam and replaced it with a 5/8″ thick ceiling tile. I may steal a half an inch for the foreground by switching to prototypical 13′ track centers (1.8″) from the HO scale standard of 14.5′ (2″) when I relay this section with Micro Engineering track.

I realized I had to lower the grade when I built this mockup. Of course that was right after I cut and installed the fascia. In later years hoppers were unloaded in a pit where the D&H car sits, rather than through the doors in the back of the building. If anyone has or knows of good detail photos of the open side of this type of shed, I’d love to see them.

So lots of little projects are getting done and moving the layout forward. Those who are prolific layout builders say the best way to make progress is to do something every day, even if you only work for 15 minutes. It all adds up. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.