Friday 21 November 2014

Freight Car Profile #2: EHSX 123289

EHSX 123289 is switched in the yard at London, ON after coming up from Windsor with a load of seeds.

I guess it’s time for another freight car profile. Today’s car is not quite what it appears to be: at first glance, it seems to be a conventional 5800 CF plastic pellet covered hopper. But the sharp-eyed observer will notice the presence of gravity gates instead of the pneumatic gates appropriate for plastic pellet service. The car’s reporting mark, EHSX, denotes that it belongs to the Essex Hybrid Seed Company of Windsor, Ontario. This car is one of a number purchased second hand from Procor – many of their cars still bear the distinctive Procor wordmark, as well as their original car numbers. Essex Hybrid also acquired a handful of conventional 4750 CF ribsided hoppers from Procor, and several secondhand curved-sided hoppers from other sources. The cars are used for the transport of seed crops, primarily flax seed, which is rather light and thus well-suited for the higher cubic foot cars. The car was built at Procor’s Oakville, ON plant in August 1987, one of nearly 1500 manufactured at the facility. The design closely matches the original Pullman design (but lacks the large crossmembers at each end of the car) and predates the acceptance of the curved-sided plastic pellet hopper design as the preferred method for plastic pellet car construction. Though the 5800 CF design was the industry standard for many years, newer designs of 6200 or 6400 CF have supplanted many older cars. The lucky ones, like EHSX 123289, have found a new lease on life in another service however many have since met the torch.

'Til next time,


Friday 14 November 2014

Locomotive Project #1 - GEXR 3856

GEXR 3856 returns to Stratford with loads from the Hayes-Dana plant in St. Mary's, passing ETR 0-6-0 #9. The engine, the auto frame plant, and even the steamer are now gone from the current GEXR operation. Ian Taylor photo, author's collection. 

One of my favourite things to do in the model railroading hobby is to take locomotives apart and rebuild them into other prototypes or a specific engine I’ve seen. Whether it’s a paint scheme not offered commercially or reworking an existing model for a local prototype, I enjoy both the mechanical work as well as the paint and finishing aspect of redoing an engine. This is the first in what will eventually be a series of the projects I’ve undertaken; I say “undertaken” instead of “completed” since I usually seem to start five projects and complete one before something else catches my interest and I get distracted and put the project on hold. But I digress…

Shortline engines often require some effort to model since the major manufacturers generally don’t offer models decorated for specific shortlines. Likewise, shortline engines often times are rebuilt or modified from factory designs and can be rather unique. One of the local shortlines, the Goderich-Exeter Railway, is a good example of the above point. During the period in which I model them (about 1999-2007-ish), the roster included no less than ten different paint schemes and about as many locomotive models. Similarly, as a Railtex – and later RailAmerica – shortline, units were often traded or swapped among other family roads; this all means that almost none of the units were commercially offered (the exception being FP9u’s 1400 and 1401 by Intermountain).

One of the first units I photographed when I got serious about photography was GEXR 3856, a GP38AC built for the GM&O in August 1969. After a stint as Illinois Central 9539, the engine and a number of its’ siblings were sold to RailAmerica for use on the newly-created New England Central Railway, operating the former Grand Trunk line in its’ namesake territory. As part of the start-up, the engine became NECR 9539 and received a snazzy blue and yellow paint job. After a number of years in New England, the perpetually power-short GEXR received the unit sometime around 1999-2003 (I’ll have to look up the transfer date I suppose) and it was quickly renumbered to GEXR 3856. Not much effort was devoted to the unit at the time, as the New England Central Railway logos on the sides and ends of the locomotive were patched out with the unit otherwise remaining in NECR paint. The unit continued on in service for a number of years until a broken crankshaft sidelined the unit in 2008. The future was looking rather dim for the engine at the time, with GEXR’s track record of consigning broken down units to the deadline in Goderich - a deadline from which several units did not emerge. Fortunately though, the unit was found to be worth salvaging and was sent to another RailAmerica shortline in Ontario, the Southern Ontario Railway, at Hamilton. Once there, several months were spent repairing the prime mover as well as numerous other defects resultant from years of hard work and minimal maintenance. Repairs included a new crankshaft, new horn, new truck frames, a hot-start system, cab metal repairs (corrosion had resulted in holes right through the cab walls), and a general tune-up. The unit was finally completed in January 2010 after which it was tested on SOR for about a week before leaving for the Ottawa Valley Railink, another RailAmerica shortline. The OVR had recently experienced a wreck that left that railroad power-short so north it was for GEXR 3856. At press time, the locomotive is presently at CAD Rail in Montreal receiving upgrades to bring it up to GP38-2 specs. This will likely mean a repaint and a change to the road number and reporting mark as the OVR is now part of the Genessee & Wyoming family. Like a cat with nine lives, hopefully this will keep the old girl around for a while longer. But for now, I’m happy keeping it as it was circa 1999-2007.

Pondering its' fate, GEXR 3856 sits quietly on a side track at Stratford with a broken crankshaft. Author's photo, 7/04/2008. 

A warm autumn afternoon finds GEXR 3856 in the company of ex-CN GP40 RLK 4095. The engine is waiting for parts before repairs commence at the SOR, ex-CN shop building behind the photographer; author's photo. 
Back from the dead, GEXR 3856 gets a break-in switching cars for Bunge with RLK 1755 while RLK 1808 has the morning off. The days on the SOR for each engine are numbered, with the GP20D invasion less than two months away. Author's photo 1/10/2010.

Fortunately for me, Atlas did a run of units painted for the NECR as part of their Master line of engines. Thus, it was a relatively straightforward project to create GEXR 3856. Most of the work related to the units’ external appearance. To begin with, the Atlas paint job was weathered moderately with acrylic paints; the NECR logos on the long hood and nose were patched with yellow and blue paint (Tamiya and True Line Trains respectively), and the can sides were also patched. Decals for “GEXR 3856” were cut from a Microscale alphabet set and applied over the patches; the numberboards were also changed to read 3856. A coat of Testors dullcoat was used to seal everything together. As the Atlas model was already pretty well detailed, very few add-on parts were required. One thing to be added is the rear mini-snowplow (“weedcutter” type by Details West).  Also, the model came from the factory with a fuel tank that was too large for the prototype; a replacement was sourced from the spare parts box, using a smaller Atlas tank that came with an undecorated GP38 engine from another project. One further detail to be modified is the horn; from the Atlas factory, it is located above the cab, but it will need to be moved to the top of the long hood, just forward of the oil bath air filter box. Other details to be added include an amber rotary beacon on the cab roof, and front/rear ditch lights. I plan to experiment with SMD LED’s and acquired some from Germany for use in this and other projects. Hopefully that won’t be too difficult to figure out; we’ll see. As it stands right now, the pain and some mechanical work is done on the model; the lighting and addition of some detail parts still remains, but that shouldn’t take too long to complete. When done, this will give me three GEXR GP38’s, the others being #3835 and 3821. I’ll have to post a group shot once completed.

An in-progress shot of the model shows that the paint work is mostly complete, with several details still to be added including snowplow, ditch lights, rotary beacon, new horn and numberboards. I'll post another photo once it's all back together; this one is taking me almost as long to rebuild as it did in real life, though SOR mechanics did a lot more work to the real thing!

Until then,

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Wednesday Work Update #1

Well I suppose it's time to show some actual progress on the layout for a change. First off, the track for the grain elevator has been completed. A simple arrangement, it consists of two tracks long enough to hold about six cars each, connected by a switch (which then joins the mainline). This is the first Peco switch to be installed on the layout, and future switches will likely be from Atlas or Peco instead of the existing Shinohara’s for two reasons: a) we’ve almost run out of the supply of Shinohara switches, and b) the Peco and Atlas switches already have the frog isolated so we won’t need to cut gaps in the rail with a cutoff disk. Next we’ll have to decide exactly what the structures are going to look like, but once that is sorted out, this should be one of the first areas of the layout to be completed scenery-wise.

Mocking up the grain elevator tracks with the help of a 1/87 CAT loader and my stylish Daffy Duck pencil. The cork subroadbed has subsequently been installed and the tracks spiked down. 

Over on the east side, we’ve had a bit of a re-think on the track plan for the spur. The industrial spur 2.0 will now have the plywood base raise up about 4-6 inches from previously planned for two reasons: the first so that the existing switch on the high-line can be used to access the spur instead of running a new track off the south yard lead and under the bridge (which was kind of iffy clearance-wise). Also, a higher elevation for the spur will provide a more eye-level view of the layout, making it seem a little more realistic (instead of an eye-in-the-sky “helicopter” view). This requires a completely new track arrangement, but I think will improve the switching operations. We can still retain the same industries (lumber yard, bulk fuel dealer, rolling mill and possibly a team track/TOFC track), they will just be shuffled around in the available space. Another consideration for the re-think was the incorporation of an access hatch; initially, it was thought that the hatch could be placed behind the high-line, however it was realized that if something derailed in the middle of the east half, it would be difficult to reach. Thus, a square access hatch about 18” across will be located in front of the rolling mill. The plan is to cut out the hatch, then lay the track across it, and then cut gaps in the rails to allow for removal. Some sort of retaining blocks will be mounted underneath to prevent movement while in place; we’ll also need to use some sort of quick-connect type plugs to allow for separation of the electrical feeders to that portion of the track. The idea is that it will normally be in place, and only removed for “emergency” access (e.g. derailment or to correct electrical gremlins). The hatch will require that the rolling mill be cut down to three segments (the Walthers kit comes with four lengths that contribute to the overall length), but that's okay since the structure already occupied a large footprint in the available space and for our purposes we don't need the full-size structure. It can still fit about four gons on each track with three segments of the structure, and with the storage track next to the building, it will match the yard capacity well (i.e. the yard will not be jammed with cars going to/from the mil).

The new track plan (more-or-less) for the east-side industrial spur. It will now use the switch off the high-line at left and serve a bulk fuel dealer at far left, the rolling mill at center, and the lumberyard at lower right (mostly out of view below frame). A possible team track/TOFC track may be located beyond the lumberyard. The access hatch will be located in front of the rolling mill. The plywood will be raised to the same level as the high-line switch.

The next phase of construction will focus on completing the engine servicing facility. Given that it will handle both steam and diesel locomotives, we will have both a roundhouse (with turntable) as well as a fuel rack and shop building for the diesels. I’ll create an article in the future about the roundhouse and shop building, but for now we have a theoretical track plan. Next step is to install the turn table and then check that the track plan will work; more on that at a later time. 

'Til then,

Monday 10 November 2014

Freight Car Snapshot #1

 Here’s the first in what will hopefully be a series of discussions about interesting freight cars I’ve seen in my railfan travels. Maybe even a modeling project at some point, too.

Redstreak Rail flatcar QUAX 88920 is seen at London, ON 9/18/2011. Note the toolbox for chain storage, the movable bolster at left, and the fixed bolster at the far end of the car. The car was eastbound en route to the US at the time after bringing a damaged PROX tank car (wrecked on the BNSF in Texas) to the Procor Sarnia shop for repairs.

I thought I’d do something unusual for the first subject: QUAX 88920. This is an 89’ flatcar belonging to Redstreak Rail, a company out of Colorado that supplies specialized flatcars for moving damaged cars, or other cars not capable of moving on their own wheels. The unique feature of Redstreaks’ cars is the tie-down system that was added to the car when they acquired it secondhand. This system consists of a set of rails running the length of the car that are used to position a truck bolster; it, and another (fixed) bolster are used to land the damaged car onto, after which it can be chained down. This provides a secure and reliable method to prevent further damage to a car while in transit. Additionally, it speeds up the process of moving a damaged car since there is no need for blocking to support the car, and the time to select a suitable car (commonly supplied by TTX or the damaging road) is reduced.  A set of chains and tie-down lugs are also incorporated into the modifications to this car, as well as chocks for locating the car’s trucks (since they usually accompany the car, and it cannot ride on them). Restreak’s cars are commonly used for tank cars or hopper cars, as they often require home shop for repairs rather than being able to be moved on own wheels to a railroad-owned repair shop.

This would be a relatively easy car to model, as 89’ flatcars are available from Atlas, Athearn, and Walthers, and little modification would be required ( the QUAX cars have several minor differences among them that could favour using one model or another as a starting point). Strip styrene could be used to create the rails (if model does not already have them), bolster supports and toolbox, and truck bolsters could be sourced from the parts box (e.g. an Intermountain kit would be ideal since their trucks are in three main pieces just like the prototype). Similarly, the paint is one colour and would be an easy repaint from factory paint. The decals could be sourced from an alphabet set along with freight car data sets from either Microscale or other decal suppliers.

'Til next time,

Thursday 6 November 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday #2

A glitch with Blogger last night prevented me from uploading the photo, but here it is...