Derails…on purpose? (Part III)

This is the concluding post on derails.

Let’s see a derail used on a movement on B. Smith’s LCN RR.  Then I will briefly cite a challenge modellers face in incorporating the use of derails.

The LCN has a weekend excursion train often powered by a steam locomotive.  Weekend traffic is often slower on the LCN, but during the wheat harvest season, extras are often required on the weekend to keep up with the amount of wheat being brought into the San Angelo elevator.  A unit train movement often takes place a few times during the week during the peak of the season to service the San Angelo elevator.  We will see a derail used to protect the excursion movement from a unit train extra.

Narrative in captions describe the action from the engineer’s perspective.


Why do they run the grain train on Sunday now? They know the tourist train runs then too. Only means some extra hours (and $) because we’ll have to wait for it somewhere. Today we have a track warrant to proceed to San Angelo and hold the siding. Sure hope there are no cars spotted in the siding.


Here we go across the Hall Canyon bridge.


Good, no cars in the siding here at San Angelo. Matt has me lined in and the derail off.  (Note small orange derail ahead of the locomotive in the open position.)


Good old Matt, always checking the cars out as they roll by.


Derail is back on, switch is lined behind, we’re tucked in the siding, now we wait for the excursion to pass by before we can proceed. The mainline is now protected and ready.

We will leave the crew of the unit train extra to wait.  Hopefully, their wait won’t be long so they can get home to their families and salvage some of their weekend.  The life of a railroader is challenging, even in HO scale!

Now for the challenge.


Derail protecting the Union Pacific mainline in San Marcos,Texas. Note red flag to highlight the derail, 2013.

I hope you have seen how derails are an important part of real railroading and can be an excellent way to slow down and increase the operations of model layouts.  Unfortunately, I am not aware of any easily operable HO derails on the market right now.  Sequoia Scale Models did make them for a while but are not producing them at this time.  I will share this series with a few manufacturers to challenge them to address this deficiency in the market.  Perhaps, there is a product available, but I am not aware of an easily operable, reasonably scale derail on the market at the time.  (Please comment if I am wrong.) I hope this need is rectified soon.  I will need them soon!  I will inform you if I get any news.



Derails…on purpose? (Part II)

Let’s see some derails used on a layout.  I plan to use derails on my “ATSF in Roswell in the 90s” layout, but I have a challenge that I will share later.

B. Smith’s LCN has a number of derails along his layout to protect movements along the line.


Derail at Hirshfield Steel in San Angelo, left side of track near bulkhead flat car.



Other end of Hirshfield Steel, note derail on siding at Butt’s recycling, orange, left side of track near brown box car.

Let’s visit the other side of San Angelo.


Note orange derail on right side of track at grocery distributor on the other end of San Angelo.

We will now go visit Marathon to check out the use of derails.


The cotton compress in Marathon has a derail, near locomotive. Looks like the local has holed up at the compress for the evening.

A derail is also used to protect the line at the spur off to the bakery in Marathon.


As is often the case in Marathon, the LCN local is holed up and this time left behind the derail on the bakery siding.

We have seen derails used at a variety of locations on the LCN.  The goal on real railroads is to prevent accidents from unanticipated movements of rolling stock.  Re-railing a few cars is always better than a major collision.  On HO layout, derails can be used to add operating interest, slow down operations and give an increased feel to operations.

In part III of this series, we will see a derail being used in an actual movement on the LCN.



Derails…on purpose? (Part I)

Sort of…

A derail is a device used to prevent rail cars from rolling onto a rail line and creating a dangerous situation.. It works (as the name suggests) by derailing the equipment as it rolls over or through the derail. The normal position of a derail is in the derailing position (i.e. applied or left on). Image

Derails come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.  They are often yellow or orange.  They are an interesting feature to model because they add operational complexity.  Pictured above is a derail (yellow) protecting the Union Pacific main line in San Marcos, Texas in 2013.


Reverse side of derail in San Marcos.

Just as in the real world, using derails in HO scale requires an extra step or two to switching a rail side business.  In San Marcos, before the Union Pacific can spot or remove a covered hopper at this auger, the brakeman must use his key and open the derail.  By opening it, the actual derail device is moved out of the way so traffic can pass over the derail. (Typically it is on a hinge.)  The derail must be closed again once a car is spotted.  It is an extra layer of protection in case the brake set via the brake wheel was to not function properly.

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Another variety of derail (orange).


From this recent scene on the Texas Pacifico RR, note the orange derail to the left of the locomotive (bottom of photo). ©B. Smith photo

This is an obscure feature visually, but of great importance to safe operations of railroads.  Two of the great gurus of realistic operations, B. Smith and Lance Mindheim, have taught me that the more you can incorporate realistic operating procedures such as derails, the more enjoyment you can get out of a smaller layout.  Though Lance’s modelling is centered on modelling south Florida circa. 2006, Lance’s website is outstanding and a great educational asset —

Part two of this series will feature HO applications of derails.



More on chow for cows–pretty sticky stuff, part II (Lazy W Ranch Operation)


Busy time at the Lazy W Ranch as a cut of ATSF feed is being unloaded.

Welcome to the LCN Railroad.  The LCN is a friend’s HO layout set in the West in 1990.  This post will highlight the Lazy W Ranch Operation.

The Lazy W Ranch expanded its operations a few years back and leased the house track spur from the LCN, including the old freight house.  One or two tank cars of liquid feed are spotted here every week.  The Lazy W Ranch was a pasture operation until it built a feedlot.  Now dry feed is brought in by rail as well as liquid feed.  An occasional inbound load is spotted by the old freight station which is now used to store fencing material, pallets of empty bags, and bagged feed supplements.  Out bound rail shipments of bagged manure in box cars also occur.  The LCN maintains a storage building and a handcar shed in addition to the water column along the passing track.

Here we see the where the covered hoppers of corn feed are unloaded into the two storage bins and then into trucks to be transported to the feed lot a short distance away.  A small bobcat tractor is used to position the covered hoppers for unloading.


Unloading feed at the Lazy W Ranch Operation

This is a view of the entire Lazy W Ranch spur, with covered hopper unloading, the old freight house, and the liquid feed unloading spot.  The water tank in the distance is left over from when steam locomotives were used.  It is still used today as a water supply for fire fighting and to water the LCN’s steam locomotive that pulls the tourist train.


Unloading continues. Note white bobcat near man with the red cap shuttling the car into position.

Below is the liquid feed spot on the Lazy W Ranch spur.


Overview of liquid feed unloading area. Looks like it is going to be a scorcher!

Liquid feed unloaded from the tank cars is stored in the vertical tanks and loaded into tank trucks for transport to its destination.  It is delivered throughout the surrounding region.


Liquid feed being unloaded.


In this shot, we see a load of rebar spotted by the old freight house.  A number of “barn” cats live around the old freight house and keep the mice population in check.


Load of rebar being brought in for a project. See the mice patrol on the platform?


Hope you enjoyed the tour of the Lazy W Ranch Operation.  In the next post, we’ll visit another feed operation in a nearby town also on the LCN–Fat Cow Livestock Supplement.


More on chow for cows–pretty sticky stuff


Cows at a molasses licker drum.

For years, I have noticed companies in the West that receive tank cars of liquid feed for cattle.  It is an important source of rail traffic and pretty easy to model.


Tank car spotted at molasses dealer in Marfa, Texas 2007. Note spilled molasses.

I decided to do a little research on the topic.  Roswell did not feature a liquid feed dealer in the early 1990s, but it would have been pretty easy for a dealer to set up off a team track.  I am not sure if I will feature any liquid feed operations on my layout, but it is an option for other modellers.  They are easy to model.  In part one of this series, I am going to highlight three actual operations in Texas with a particular focus on my favorite in Marfa, Texas.  In parts II and III, I will feature operations on a friends layout.

Just as background, molasses-based supplements have been fed to cattle for decades. In the early years these supplements consisted of molasses alone, but the formulation of molasses supplements progressed and now includes the addition of crude protein, minerals, vitamins, feed additives. A molasses-based mixture can be a high crude protein supplement added to concentrate feeds, a medium to high crude protein supplement fortified with minerals and vitamins fed in a lick-wheel tank or an energy supplement fed in open troughs to cattle grazing pasture or native range. It can be a simple mixture of molasses and urea, or a complex mixture containing molasses, other liquids, natural protein, non-protein nitrogen, phosphorus, several trace elements, vitamins or other feed additives.

That is probably more than you wanted to know, but let’s get to looking at some rail operations that handle this commodity.

There is a large operation in Gainesville, Texas, the aptly named, “Cattle-lac Liquids.”  It frequently receives numerous loads (three or more cars) off the BNSF.


Liquid feed dealer in Gainesville, Texas (2013 photo)


Liquid feed tanks and siding off the BNSF mainline.


Aerial image of Cattle-Lac Liquids.  The four white tanks are visible in the proceeding photo.

Another large operation that I am aware of is Hudson Livestock Supplements in Miles, Texas.  Depending on the season, Hudson is a pretty good customer for the Texas Pacifico Railroad.  The Texas Pacifico operates the old South Orient line   See post from March 1, 2014, entitled, “The last one was cold and rainy…”



Tank cars spotted at Hudson Livestock Supplements.  Note the beige receiving tanks hiding behind the tank cars. (circa. 2008)

I saved my favorite for last–Fowlkes Cattle Company in Marfa, Texas.


Lone tank car of molasses spotted at Fowlkes Cattle Company liquid feed unloading facility in November of 2007.

It is a small operation on the east side of Marfa, Texas.  It is located adjacent to Union Pacific’s mainline to El Paso, Texas.  It normally receives a few shipments each year and normally just one car.  Occasionally, two cars will be spotted there.


Rare instance when two cars were spotted at the Marfa dealer. (2008)

This would be an easy operation to model.  A few tanks and a pump and your in business.  This is not a space eater for a layout.


Pump and tanks.

Here is an aerial of this operation.


Fowlkes Cattle Company from the air. The green dot denotes the unloading facility. Note tank car to the left. It was likely waiting to be spotted or retrieved by the Union Pacific.  The little rectangles above the unloading facility are cattle pens.

Part II of this post will feature an HO scale liquid feed dealer including a discussion of its operations.

Roadtrip to Zozo (part III)

All right, we checked out some of the great architecture (March 16) and some of the eats (March 17) in Zozo.  We also peeked behind the Yucca Bar and Grill to find a large SP locomotive idling.  What now?  What else?  Let’s head to Oscura!

Where’s Oscura?  (Oscura means dark in Spanish.)  Oscura is a wide spot in the road a bit west of Carrizozo.  An interesting feature near Oscura is an abandoned airfield.  Per a neat website entitled, “Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields,” the Oscura Army Airfield was (or is) one of several airfields within the White Sands Proving Grounds.  The date of construction and purpose is unknown, but the author of the site believes it was likely constructed at some time between 1947 and 1962.

Per the site, “The earliest depiction of Oscura AAF which has been located is the 1962 USGS topo map.”


This 1966 map depicted  Oscura AAF as having a single 4,000′ paved runway. See website for more maps and images.

Aerial images still depict the airfield.  As you can see below from this modern aerial image, the airfield is about 5 miles west of the highway.  It is on the other side of the Lava flow, I discussed in my February 18, 2014 post entitled, “Lava anyone?


Green dot indicates the airfield just on the other side of the lava flow (black area).  Red dot depicts Oscura.

Oscura close

Close up of airfield.

I just know you are asking yourself, “This is really cool stuff, but what about trains?” So let’s get to some of the images I captured on some beautiful days in this beautiful area in the early 1990s

West of Carrizozo near Oscura, I caught some great action along this beautiful, but very isolated stretch of the SP main.line.


SSW (Cotton Belt) 8042 led a freight in the fading light west of Zozo.

Here’s some action earlier in the day.


Earlier in the day, I caught this SP freight heading west just out of Zozo. Note Rio Grande locomotive behind the lead unit.

The line featured semaphore signalling in the early 1990s!


On another day, I caught this SP container train heading west. Note the old-style semaphore.

I know you want to see some 1990 freight cars too, right?


C&NW and BN cars heading west behind the SSW locomotive pictured above.

Let me close out this post with some action from the Northeast and Canada.


Same train contained Maine Central (Lamoille Valley RR), Bangor and Aroostook and Ontario Northland cars.

Not to be a fuddy duddy because I enjoy seeing trains today, but watching trains was better in the 1990s.  There was very little graffiti, and the freight cars often featured logos advertising the railroads.

This is the end of this series of posts.  We had a good roadtrip–cool architecture, great food, some railfanning and a bonus of a little aviation history.  I hope you enjoyed the roadtrip to Zozo!

A nice red car…(least it used to be.) — Photo of the week

ATSF was not the only railroad to have attractive red freight cars.  I snapped this picture near San Marcos, Texas, June 1996.  At one time, it was a really nice red Missouri, Kansas & Texas covered hopper.  It was lettered for the BKTY.  Why the B?  One account has it that these were cars that were financed for the railroad by the Bankers Leasing Company.


BKTY #1361 near San Marcos, TX June 1996.


BKTY #1362 in Kirkwood MO, October 16, 1988

Above, is a similar car (next car in series #1362) captured in 1988. it is a nicer specimen than that one I photographed 1996.

Roadtrip to Zozo (part II)


All these historic buildings and trains works up an appetite!  Fortunately, other than photographing old, charismatic structures and spotting a few trains, the next best thing to do in Carrizozo is eat.

But my all-time favorite place is gone, and it wasn’t in Zozo.  It was down the road in Capitan.  The name was iffy, “The Cafe Ole,” but the food was amazing.  It sat in a little building on the western edge of Capitan.  The building is now painted a somewhat unfortunate blue, but still there.  The green chile cheese burgers, pico de gallo and enchiladas were epic.

Cafe Ole in Capitan

Building that once housed the “epically” good Cafe Ole.


This is the type of food one could experience at the Cafe Ole in the early 1990s.

However, Carrizozo has a few tempting places as well.  The Outpost used to serve a pretty fine green chile cheeseburger as well.  I am not sure if it is still open.


The Outpost in Zozo.


Probably way unhealthy, but what a way to go.

For enchiladas in Zozo in the early 1990s, there used to be a really good place called Paul’s Coffee Cup.  It is now called Kelly’s.  Paul moved to another location and may still offer takeout.


Paul’s Coffee Cup, circa 2006

For dessert, how about a vanilla shake?  Roy’s used to offer a fabulous shake.  Hopefully, it still is there.  Carrizozo just wouldn’t be the same without those shakes.


Roy’s — home of great vanilla shakes!

Eating in New Mexico is a life changing experience.

Next stop,  chasing trains (circa. 1993) in the rugged, beautiful country west of Zozo towards Oscura, NM.

Roadtrip to “Zozo” (Part 1)

One of my favorite towns in New Mexico is Carrizozo.  It is about 90 west of Roswell along the old SP mainline, now Union Pacific RR. “Zozo” (as it is nick-named by some locals) is the county seat of Lincoln County (one of my favorite counties in NM) and has a population of about 1,000.  The name of the town is derived from a Spanish word for reed grass Carrizo, which grew significantly in the area and provided excellent feed for ranch cattle. (Carrizo also refers to a groups of extinct languages. sometimes called  Comecrudan that were spoken in parts of Texas and New Mexico along the Rio Grande River.  A number of early ethnographers and researchers, including John Wesley Powell, documented this language.)

In the early 1990s and mid-2000s I visited.  The next couple of posts or so, will share some images and thoughts about the town and my road trips.

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Another image of my favorite defunct bar on a main street in Zozo–The Yucca Bar and Grill.

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Inside the Yucca Bar. How I would have liked to see this place on a busy Saturday night!

There’s a novel (or at least a short story) waiting to be written about this place.  Maybe I’ll write it.

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Another great structure down from the Yucca bar and Grill is the Cold Storage. The old SP main is right behind it. I took this photo in the early 1990s.

Another great building to weave into the story!  What beautiful architecture for such a utilitarian business.  I love the way style used to count.  It would be a metal, nondescript building now.

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One beautiful evening in the early 1990s, I found this beast idling behind the Yucca Bar. In reality, it was an SP tunnel motor in between assignments.  Note snow capped mountain in the distance.
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On the same evening, perhaps reflecting the 1988 SP-Rio Grande merger, empty Rio Grande gondolas and a hopper await their next duties just down from the idling locomotive.

More to come–fantastic food, railfanning out towards Oscura, petroglyphs and more.  Oscura–that needs to be in the short story too!

Chow for cows!

New Mexico has approximately 150 dairies, with the largest average herd size (2088) in the nation. New Mexico is currently ranked 9th in the nation for milk production and 5th in the nation for cheese production.

The dairy industry was really beginning to take off in Roswell in the early 1990s (and before).  Many covered hoppers of feed were being delivered just south of Roswell at a siding which is featured on my layout.


The siding along the top represents the area where  about 6 covered hoppers were typically spotted.  It will be an important source of traffic on the layout.


The siding was (and still is) along Hwy 285, just south of Roswell. The siding is still periodically used to bring in feed. Note the auger (white) which is used to transfer the grain to truck to be transported to area dairies.

I remember cuts of about a half dozen covered hoppers frequently spotted here.  This feed and mostly locally grown alfalfa would feed the emerging dairy herds in the area.  It was an important source of ATSF traffic around Roswell in the 1990s.  It is far larger now.  There are now a number of large feed operations between Roswell and Carlsbad.


I took this photo in 1994. Six cars were spotted at this time.


Common road names included C&NW (pictured here), ATSF, BN, MP and MKT as well as private companies.