CP Executive train in Albany

CP Executive train in Albany

Saturday, October 26, 2019

My first train set

Image from Walthers 1988 HO catalog
 As the holiday season draws near I was discussing the Toys for Tots campaign in general, and train sets in particular, with some friends. Getting started with a train set (assuming it is a decent quality one) is probably the way most of us got started. In the 1980s, it likely was a Tyco or Bachmann package. Mine was the HO scale Bachmann "Workhose EMD GP-50" set, which was labeled as "NEW!" in the Walthers 1988 catalog. It was powered by a high-nose GP-50 engine painted in Erie Lackawanna's maroon and gray scheme. I received it when I was around 7 years old. 

NOT my engine! Item #41-0612-G4
Remember when Bachmann bragged about engine lights?
I still have the engine. It sits proudly on my display shelf. The rest of the set was slowly lost to the passage of time. I remember the caboose, D&H hopper, and L.V. reefer, but I don't remember my set having the crane shown. I did have a Bachmann Union Pacific crane and boom car with spot light but that isn't pictured in the ad. I doubt I had two cranes, so either the U.P. one came with the set or my parents bought it separately. It was too long ago to remember. The D&H hopper was bright red and I eventually made a stone load for it. 

My dad modified the engine to have a Kadee coupler on one end and left the hornhook on the other end. That way, I could run both types of equipment if I wanted. Later on, the body shell was damaged so much that it sat loose on the chassis and I could not only flip the frame around to get the coupler I wanted but I could also spin the body to run it long-hood or short-hood forward. I loved it and ran it to death. Literally. After more than one trip to the concrete basement floor from the train layout the internal printed circuit boards cracked and my father had to hard-wire the two halves back together. The handrails broke off little by little until nothing remains today. Finally, after about 15 years the motor finally burned up. Someday if I find another one at a train show for cheap I will pick it up.

Bachmann also released an N scale version 
Since then, I have moved onto bigger and perhaps better things but I still like prefer high-nose engines, still think that the Erie Lackawanna was a classy railroad, and unlike most people believe that Bachmann made some good train sets. My second engine was a Bachmann Santa Fe F-unit that my parents purchased for me in a strain store. I think every kid ended up with one of these engines at some point in life. I sometimes wonder where I would be as a modeler had I received that as my first engine, or if my first engine was a Union Pacific low-nose geep, or even a steamer (that engine probably wouldn't have lasted me very long). Hum... 

Perhaps this Christmas season you might want to consider passing along the gift of a train set. Or, maybe make one up from extra pieces in your own collection. You never know where it will take the next young modeler.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Ballasting Keis Distributors and Norlite

Compared to my previous ballasting adventures lately, the two industries on this next section of the layout should be fairly easy. However, before I could dig to the process I had three more Micro Engineering switches to replace. All three of these had failed, and like before I didn't have the patience to try and replace the throwbars with new ones made from PCB ties. Unlike my Menands section, this was easier as the switches didn't form a ladder and I didn't have to try and cram them all together. Still, it is much more fun laying track when you aren't cutting and piecing together tiny sections of rail.

Keis Distributors
Once that was done, the ties were painted and then the ballasting could begin. The Keis siding is an interesting study in economics. I have talked with people who worked for and with D&H as well as engineering consultants and it appears that these two sidings were fairly new and also rarely, if ever, used in the 1980s. The ballast looked nice and clean in 1984. In fact, if you go to the building today (it is a Window manufacturer now) the sidings are still there, and still are in great shape. The switch to the mainline was pulled a long time ago, but I can see exactly what the ballast looked like at the time I am modeling.

A neat detail is the gravel MOW road crossing the
siding on the left hand side of the tracks.
I plan to go easy with the weeds on this section, as it didn't appear as though they were able to grow on Keis sidings. I have a theory on this, though there is no way to really know for sure if it s correct. I bet a lot of the growth on the other sidings was because one of the customers was an Agway, and perhaps loaded cars with grain coming in or going out spilled and the contents took root? That, combined with a lack of interest by the D&H in a minority customer, let the track go wild. Here, the tracks were installed or relaid with a lot of car because the customer was going to ship in or our a quantity of chilled beer, and perhaps the D&H wanted to put that new relationship on good grounds. Sadly, I guess it never came to pass.

Current pictures show the ballast as a dark gray, and pictures from 1984 don't really dispute this. While I don't think the current colors of the mainline ballast match those from 1984, I used Woodland Scenics' solid gray ballast on the two sidings to give the appearance that it was more recently installed than the mainline. I think this will reflect the history of the sidings (and hopefully not just look like I ran out of one color of ballast and substituted another on a whim). One thing I noticed though is that the WS gray ballast acted differently from other WS gray blend ballast I had been using. It was finer, dustier, and floated more with the glue. And, it isn't as dark a gray color on my layout as it looks in the bag. But, I have terrible lighting on this section of the layout and once I hang another set of lights I hope it will look better.

Mainline between Keis and Norlite. Note the ballast in the middle.
One interesting detail is the condition of the mainline between Keis and Norlite. As I have noted before, the D&H mainline (in fact, all tracks) on the Colonie Main were in a state of neglect (though certainly not as bad as in, say, 1986) and there were lots of opportunities for a weed spray train and a ballast train to get to work. However, there are some areas that look as if a ballast train did drop some stone but in a weird pattern. Note the picture at right. Between the rails is a lot of ballast that covers the ties but just for a short length. Also shown are "dual lines" of black oil drippings along the center of the track. Instead of one line of weathering down the middle, many pictures show two distinct trails. I don't know what causes that.

Norlite Lightweight Aggregates
Before it lost its rail service in 2011, it was a bare track on the ground that was filled with front end loaders or some other heavy equipment. They would load two or three open top hoppers with vetrified shale. The track leading in was probably was ballasted at one time, but the dirt and mud from below likely came through and partially buried the track. Then, likely some of the shale that spilled while loading might also end up on the ground on and around the rails. For now, I am ballasting the track with the same stuff I used on the mainline but there will be a light bit of weeds as is shown in the picture. I don't want all my sidings to end up green (even if prototypical).

Recently I was talking with someone at Norlite who worked there for decades and has access to photos I don't have, in the mid-1980s there might have been a structure that was used for loading the cars. The pictures I have from 1984 don't show this, but the track might have been longer and the structure just out of view. The round tube things in the picture above don't appear to be the structure he is talking about but I can't be sure. He might be confused, but he is looking into it more. The current siding is only about 16" long on my layout so there isn't much to actually ballast. And, if I need to redo the area based on future research it will be pretty easy.

And with that, I am only 5' of ballasted track away from completing my requirements for my NMRA badge! And, I just ran out of my diluted matte medium adhesive which takes a while to make. Grrr.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Then and Now: Mechanicville Yard diamond

I posted last year some of my memories of railfanning in Mechanicville Yard, which is now completely different than what it used to be. Up through the 1970s there were two independent rail yards in the area, one for the Boston and Maine and the other for the Delaware and Hudson. The B&M yard was a hump yard, as was the D&H's. At the eastern end of the yards, the B&M came in from the northeast and the D&H from the southeast. Each railroad could reach its own yard, but a diamond track right next to the XO Tower allowed trains to cross into each other's yards.

Here is a shot from June 1984 showing a B&M train heading southeast on the D&H.

Per the Saratoga County website: "By the mid-1920's, the local yards were switching 4,000 cars a day, making Mechanicville the third largest reclassification yard in the US. At its peak, the B&M and D&H's combined employment reached 1,100 prior to WWII." Then, during the mid-1980s when both railroads were owned and controlled by Guilford Industries, they closed one of the yards and essentially combined the functions into the other yard. As part of the rationalizing process, the diamond that the B&M used to gain access into the D&H yard was taken out of service. What was once a large classification yard was downshifted and most of the services were transferred to East Deerfield. Unfortunately, this was easily accomplished because traffic levels by the mid-1980s were down considerably and the few through trains that run through Mechanicville were more easily blocked elsewhere. 

The diamond was still in place in March of 1985, but by 1986, the diamond had been removed and the the yard throat arrangement was reconfigured. The D&H then tried to close the yard in the late 1980s but Deerfield couldn't handle the overload of cars. So, Mechanicville Yard was once again pressed into service but it wouldn't last forever. I believe it was finally closed in the early 1990s. All of the land south of the tracks was sold, and right now there are some private companies in the old yard buildings. Also, the Town of Mechanicville itself has its DPW Office on some of the land.

This picture from June 1986 faces east and shows the diamond castings still bolted together but disconnected. It would make for a neat model.

Of course, Mechanicville was given a new lease on life as part of Norfolk Southern's "Patriot Corridor" plan. They rebuilt the yard in 2012 into an intermodal facility with five paved tracks to allow for COFC cars to be loaded and unloaded, and another two shorter tracks for autorack loading or unloading. And it has been slowly getting busier. Governor Cuomo even announced in August 2019 that another $1.5 million dollars would be used to increase access into the yard for trucks. So, while it might not be the hotbed of activity that it once was it certainly is becoming a place to keep your eyes on.

April 2016 found this Pan Am train leaving east on B&M tracks.

Now, if only I could find a copy of CHR's XO Tower kit!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Southworth Tractor and Machinery Co. - info update

Every once in a while you learn something new about what you are modeling in the most unusual circumstances. For me, it occurred recently during an operating session at another person's layout. The host and my engineer (I was the conductor) were talking about the efficiency of the switching moves we were performing... or perhaps the lack of efficiency on my end... and he mentioned that when he was working at Southworth Machinery (see here) he would see the train go back and forth without any sort of reasoning.

As it turns out, he was an accountant in a financial firm that would audit the Southworth books on occasion. He was given a temporary office in the upper corner facing the tracks and could watch the D&H switch the three sidings while running the numbers. More interestingly, he commented that when he was there (the late 1960s and 1970s) Southworth would receive huge Caterpillar tractors on flat cars that were so wide that the wheels had to be removed and shipped on separate cars. He didn't recall ever seeing them ship out stuff via rail.

Of course, by the 1980s things might have changed. The picture I have shows a boxcar spotted on the track, perhaps with large machinery parts inside.

Regardless, it is an interesting detail to model. I was planning on just putting some generic tractors on a flat car for service to this place but now I will look into something more realistic.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Roster Review: D&H C420s in 1984

#407 (March 1982)
Conrail's formation was a difficult time for the D&H. While they suddenly grew in route miles practically overnight, their resources were also stretched to the limit to cover the new territories. On paper, the government had a vested interest in keeping the D&H "competitive" with the newly formed Conrail. So, when Conrail was formed on April 1, 1976, the D&H was given several Alco C420 engines from Lehigh Valley (which was going into Conrail) as part of the deal. The D&H was so strapped for engines that it pressed them into service with minimal cosmetic changes, some of which were never fully corrected. Guilford later renumbered their engines but my comments above reflect the 1984 road numbers.

#414 (June 1981)
Engines #404-415 were originally built for the Lehigh Valley, and on the L.V. they had those road numbers. When the D&H received them they kept those numbers which presumably meant one less thing to have to paint out or change. The L.V. paint scheme was an attractive Cornell Red with a yellow stripe along the lower portion of the body and white diamonds on the front of the nose, with white flags on the sides of the nose. As the engines came to the D&H, most were in the red scheme. While most of them were finally being repainted into D&H colors, #409 and #414 kept their red with patch outs until retirement in 1986.

The L.V. also had an alternate scheme, nicknamed the "Yellow Jacket," which consisted of solid light gray with a yellow lower body and a yellow nose. Three of the engines inherited by the D&H arrived with this coloring, #412, #413, and #414. They too received hastily added patch outs.

#415 (November 1984)
The patch outs didn't really flatter the engines, but it allowed them to get to work quickly. Over time, most of the engines got their chance at the rainbow factory that was the D&H paint shop. In late 1977, engines #405 and #407 were repainted into the solid blue scheme with a yellow nose. This striking scheme was to be the new D&H standard scheme, but it didn't last long. Two years later in 1979, engines #405 (again!), #411, #413, #415 were painted in the striking blue scheme with yellow "zebra stripes" on the ends, and all four stayed like this until their end on the D&H.

Then, in the early 1980s when the lightning stripe became the default again for the D&H, they repainted engines #404#406#407#408, and #412 including large numbers on the sides of the hood. Interestingly, the numbers don't seem as large as those on the RS11 engines. The engine below has nearly all of its added lettering faded out, and the old "Delaware & Hudson" lettering is ghosting through. It will make an interesting prototype to model.
#412 (March 10, 1984)

#410 (December 31, 1983)

Another oddity in the roster class occurred when engine #410 was involved in a collision and severely damaged in the front sometime in the early 1980s. It sat at the Colonie shops for over a year before being repaired. To fix it a new nose was required, so the D&H reached out to the Norfolk and Western Railroad and purchased a spare high-nose replacement. Then, the D&H cut it down to make a pseudo-low nose hood and mounted it. It was unique to the C420 class as those short hoods did not have the characteristic Alco notches in the corners, though other Alco engines did. When finished in March of 1982, it was also given a coat of lightning stripe paint. Because of the hood, the engine is immediately identifiable.

#401 (February 26, 1982)
Finally, the D&H later acquired one more C420 engine in November 1980 from Conrail. It was an ex-Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad engine and came painted in light gray hoods and cabs with a darker blue long hood and area on the front hood. Again, the D&H merely patched out part of the engine and kept the road number of #401. It remained in this patch paint scheme through October of 1984, when it was renumbered #420 and became the first and only Alco to receive the Guilford gray and orange paint scheme (see the picture at the end of this posting). Why Guilford chose this engine is unknown, but there you have it.

#405 looking terrible! (December 30, 1984) 
Thankfully, modeling many of these engines is a snap thanks to Atlas. They offer #405, #407, #411, #413, and #415 in the correct D&H paint schemes, and #410, #409, and #414 in their appropriate L.V. schemes. They will require some patching, but it shouldn't be very difficult. #401 is available already in the patched out L&HR scheme. They also offer models of #410 but don't indicate whether the front hood is notched to represent the engine after its rebuilding. So, when the time comes that I want to collect some D&H engines that aren't blue or gray (or both), I think I will add a L.V. patch out or two.

#420 (February 1986)
Since the repainting of #420 (formerly #401) occurred in October of 1984, and I model in May of 1984, I won't be featuring this engine on my layout. That is too bad, as I think the paint scheme actually looks pretty good on it. It also appears that when they repainted it they added the ditch lights which are also present on a few other Guilford locomotives that were repainted in 1984.