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 III (Fat Cow Livestock Supplement)


Fowlkes Cattle Company in Marfa, Texas in 2007

I had to slip in one more shot of my favorite liquid dealer in Marfa, Texas (above).  In this post and the conclusion of the series on liquid feed rail operations, we will travel back to the LCN and visit Fat Cow Livestock Supplement.

Fat Cow Livestock Supplement on the LCN is a similar operation to Hudson Livestock Supplement near Miles, TX, except Fat Cow uses more rail shipments, both inbound and out bound.  Here a couple of tank cars of molasses are spotted for unloading.  Molasses flows, well as slow as molasses, so it may take some time to unload these cars, especially if the weather is cold.  The molasses is stored in the short blue tanks next to the storage building.


Tank cars waiting to be unloaded at Fat Cow Livestock Supplement

Fat Cow ships its finished product out in bags and in bulk.  Although trucks take some of the product, large and or distant shipments go by rail.  Here is where the bagged product is loaded into box cars.  In bound box car loads of bagged minerals are unloaded into the storage building located between the loading dock here and the tank car unloading spot in the distance.


Boxcar containing bags of minerals waiting to be unloaded.

The LCN keeps an engine here on the run around track.

The crew is complaining that it is too hot to unload the boxcar.  They will wait until it cools down a bit!

Bulk inbound loads to Fat Cow are unloaded from covered hoppers here.  Many of the covered hoppers are pressure differential cars and require air pressure to unload, thus the piping and tall blue storage tanks.  Out bound bulk shipments in covered hoppers are loaded under the structure straddling the covered hopper in the photo.  One to three covered hoppers are often loaded.  The yellow vertical tanks in the distance on the left along with the auger belong to another business and are not part of Fat Cow.

Outbound load waiting to be picked up by the LCN

 I hope you enjoyed this excellent modelling of cattle feed related businesses.  The operations can be very small and space efficient or more complex with a greater diversity of operations.  
Speaking of a diversity of operations, have you ever heard of Guar?   In an upcoming post, I will share some information on this interesting source of freight in a West Texas operation.

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.