Slide Show Sunday: SV-4 at Worcester

New York Central bay window caboose 21630 brings up the rear of Flexi-Van hotshot SV-4 at Worcester, MA on 4/30/67. NYC 21630 was from Lot 827, built by St. Louis Car Co. in 1952 and rebuilt and renumbered from series NYC 20298-20497 during 1963-65. Tangent has just completed a second run of this car in HO scale, with a revised shade of Century Green.

SV-4 was the Selkirk-Boston section and carried trailers in addition to Flexi-Van containers. While NYC was widely known for its innovative container system, it began TOFC service in 1962 and joined Trailer Train in 1964 with TOFC spreading across the system. Clearance issues close to the city prevented piggyback service into Boston until 1966. Scanned from the original Tom Murray Kodachrome slide, my collection.


Photo File Friday: 405 entering Worcester from Boston

New York Central Alco RS3 #5527 passes through the former Interlocking #26 at the east end of the Worcester Yard on November 5, 1967 (unknown photographer, author’s collection, scan of Agfachrome transparency. Worcester Stamped Metal never had a sidetrack – the Worcester Consolidated Street Railway used to run between the B&A and the building. The real hidden story here revolves around NYC simplifying infrastructure to cut costs.

In the mid-1950s, facing rising costs and declining traffic, NYC announced a plan to single-track much of the system and install Centralized Traffic Control (CTC), this included the Boston & Albany. The railroad postponed that project while traffic projections were reassessed as the traffic decline showed signs of stopping, possibly due to the growth in automotive and intermodal traffic. In the meantime, NYC took other methods to reduce their plant. Here at milepost 43.2, Tower 26 has been demolished and the interlocking reduced from five crossovers to just one plus a spring switch at the entrance to the yard, protected by a single aspect dwarf signal. The spring switch let eastbound freights exit the yard without having to stop and reset the switch once clear. It was one of only two places on the mainline that had them at this time, the other being both ends of the single-track crossing of the NY State Thruway in East Chatham, NY. Westbounds meeting a stop signal at the home signal (seen just past the end of the train) had instructions to call Tower 28 for instructions immediately. Eventually, NYC and Penn Central would reduce the main to a series of CTC islands like this, controlled remotely from just a few towers.

In the mid-1980s Conrail finally single-tracked the B&A. Since then, double track has been going back in and may stretch continuously for 150 miles from Boston to Pittsfield in a few years if the plan to increase passenger service beyond Worcester comes to pass.


Photo File Friday: SV-3 leaving Worcester

Tom Murray photo, author’s collection

Boston to Selkirk Flexi-Van hotshot SV-3 accelerates west out of Worcester, MA behind four General Electric U-Boats led by #2555 on August 27, 1966. Crompton & Knowles’ loom works are to the left. Weedgrown sidetracks to traditional industries standing empty while intermodal traffic surged were a sign of the times. SV-3 was carded for a night-time departure from Boston for most of the 1960s, so daylight photos of this job are hard to come by.


Photo File Friday: #405 at Jamesville, MA

Penn Central train 405 westbound at Jamesville, MA 7/27/69. Tom Murray photo, author’s collection.

One thing I do a couple times a week is to search E-Bay for 1960s Boston & Albany images. Often times I’ll just grab a screen shot of the picture, but if it something I think I may want for a future publication or this blog I’ll throw a bid in. Persistence pays off and a few times a year I’ll find something really useful. This is one of those finds and is a good example of how a below-average photo can be priceless to prototype research.

This is a picture of train #405, the westbound Boston to Albany run. This was a train that was heavily photographed due to its predictable daytime schedule. The photo is a little fuzzy and weather dreary; a magazine editor would throw it in the trash. The vantage point though is the James Street bridge – a place I’ve never found another photo taken from and it gives us a look at a whole bunch of details that are front and center on my layout. It is also the first period color photo I’ve found of the area.

Starting with color, we can confirm what the three-deckers to the upper left looked like. Some are still in the same shingles today. Further down is the Graham Street bridge. Black was the standard color of the overhead truss bridges on the B&A, but this one appears to be dull silver. Silver was certainly used on other bridges on the B&A and I have seen other trusses in this color during this period. This saves a mistake and will help set the layout in the 1960s. We also get a glimpse of G.F. Wright’s factory complex in the distance, while the brick colors were obvious, the photo confirms the gray color of the window panels. The different shades of gray on the ballast of the different tracks are even informative.

A close up reveals more details.

For details, we get a great look at the hardware that controls the switches including a pipe-connected hand throw crossover – standard engineering on the NYC for double track lines with Automatic Block Signals. Up on the hillside just before the bridge, it looks like the garage is filling in the land behind their building, implying that it was graded differently in 1965. Other details like the flanger sign, signals, and speed board are useful as well.

The lessons here are to really dig into you photo material and don’t stop looking for new material – you never know when you may come across an imperfect image that only you will appreciate.


On Color

A Walthers coil car I kitbashed long ago but never painted. I removed most of the walkway and replaced many cast on details with free-standing replacements. The decals are a mix from a variety of Microscale, Rail Yard Models and Mark Vaughn sets. Since these cars were unlikely to show up on the B&A until years in the future, I thought it would make a good test bed for color matching.

A hallmark of the 1960s New York Central is their jade green color scheme, known as Century Green. Painting equipment in this color can be a bit of a challenge for several reasons. First, blends of colors can be hard to get correct, a little too much one way or the other doesn’t look right. Maine Central Harvest Gold is a good example of this, as both model manufacturers and those restoring full-size equipment have repeatedly missed the mark, looking either too yellow or orange. Second, the color has a tendency to fade fast in the weather, so the color is a moving target in the real world.

Third has been the drift of our collective consciousness. Model train and model paint manufacturers have missed the mark on this color for years making it too green. Along with that, Penn Central reformulated the color into Deepwater Green, which had less blue and was darker. In my opinion, these two together have led model railroaders to misrepresent NYC’s green.

A range of renditions of Century Green surround my latest paint project NYC 752097: NYC 168521 to the left is from Branchline – the hue is right, but too dark. To the right is Atlas – a good shade/tint, but too green, the right rear is Proto 2000 too green and too light. The Walthers 60′ high-cube is actually fairly close.

With a backlog of equipment to be painted Century Green, I sought to dig a little deeper to figure out a good way to match the color. My first stop was the New York Central Historical Society’s web article on color standards. Included are formulas to match both a paint sample (Pullman-Standard Butler, PA 1965) and an actual drift card from DuPont. With this information, you can have created your own drift card by having paint matched to the color formulas.

The next piece I found was someone else who went down this road trying to match paint to restore NYC caboose 21692 for the Southern Michigan Railroad. This gentleman had claimed to have seen both the paint sample and drift card in person and was convinced that they were based on the old Munsell color system color 2.5BG 5/8. After making a direct comparison, he matched that color standard. The finished restoration matched the color better than any I have ever seen (although the graphics could use some help).

Southern Michigan Railroad’s restored NYC 21692. Courtesy of SMR’s Facebook page.

Since the results of that looked promising. I found an online color chart for 2.5 BG – but 5/8 was missing. Why? As it turns out they felt the 5/8 hue doesn’t reproduce well on a monitor. This basically confirms how hard it is to match this color. Next, I found Encolorpedia, which has analysis and paint matches for all the Munsell colors. They determined that 07937B in the hex code and a hue of 170 degrees, 91% saturation, and 30% lightness. It recommended Vallejo Model Color Light Turquoise and Model Air Jade Green were close matches (and exact matches to each other). Perhaps the Jade Green is a match, but the Turquoise is very blue and not anywhere close to matching the Jade Green, so take those match recommendations with a grain of salt.

Since the color looked different on each of my phones, desktop, and laptop, I printed a sample on my photo printer to get a color standard (the background color on the new theme for this site is 07937B for reference). The color seemed to be a good match for new NYC cars in comparison to photos. I played with a mix of Vallejo Model Color Emerald, Blue Green, and White, creating my own color chart, and decided a 1:1:1 ratio would be a good place to start. I painted a coil car and X-post boxcar. The color looked a little on the blue side, but comparisons to photos of new boxcars in the Morning Sun Color Guide to NYC Freight and Passenger Equipment Volumes 1 and 2 looked very close.

I opted to proceed with weathering of the coil car. After a wash of raw umber, the color shifted more to a green than a blue. It was still bluer than my other cars and that is what I was aiming for. Again comparing to photos in the books showed the hue to be too green or blue and the shade too light or too dark depending on the photo. In other words, it was in the range.

These two cars were painted in the same batch. The side by side comparison shows the effect of Dullcoat, artist oils and Pan Pastels on the final color. That grab iron will be repaired after decals are done.

The final test was to apply a flat finish and some Pan Pastel powders. I used Raw Umber Tint as the main weathering agent to fade it a bit more. The final result came out well enough that I’m going to go forward with decaling the P&LE boxcar over the existing paint. I thought the initial color was too blue, but if anything the final result was too green. I will probably add a bit of gray and maybe more blue to the formula on the next batch. The question now is what do I do with all of the too-green cars I have on my roster?!?!

Depending on the prototype photo the hood is either too green, blue, light, or dark – so that should be within the range of acceptable color. It is in fact, very close to the color of a fairly new car.

Fenway Finale

In honor of the American League Championship Series moving to Boston for Games 3-5…and more importantly me being in the middle of a half dozen projects with nothing ready to share, here is a Jack Leonard shot from Brookline Junction in Boston. This is April 1958, the outbound suburban train has come off of mainline track 3 and is heading west on the Highland Branch for Riverside. Service on the Highland Branch would cease at the end of the following month. It would reopen in 1959 as a light rail branch of the MTA.

Jack Leonard photo, Barb Hudson collection (used with permission).

Looming in the background is Fenway Park. The Red Sox were opening a season where although Jackie Jenson would be named MVP and Ted Williams hit a league best .328 at age 40, they would finish in 3rd place, 13 games behind the Yankees. It would be the last time the team would finish with a winning record until 1967.

Today this scene is much changed, but still recognizable. The MassPike was built over tracks 1 and 2 in the 1960s. The connection to the Highland Branch was ripped out in the 1970s after the last freight customers along Brookline Avenue stopped getting cars. A short portion of the old right-of-way makes up David Ortiz Drive right here. The Lansdown commuter rail station occupies much of area in the center of the photo. Fenway, of course, survives as do most of the industrial buildings along the railroad – although they are now occupied mostly by bars and nightclubs.

Go Sox!!

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

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.