Selecting an era to model…

It is funny how fundamental this decision is, yet not a great deal is written about it.  For some of us, it tortures us to select just the right locale, era or railroad to model.  For others, it seems to come easy (I kind of envy or perhaps even almost hate those people, just kidding).  Why should it be so easy for them and so hard for others (including me)?

CB&Q 902 in Denver, CO, October 1970.  Photo by Hol Wagner.

CB&Q 902 in Denver, CO, October 1970. Photo by Hol Wagner.

I have had many scenarios during my modelling career.  Here is a highly simplified summary of my torturous history–

Mid-1970s — CB&Q in the 1970s (Midwest)

Late-1970s to early 1980s — BN in the 1980s (Pacific Northwest)

BN 2087 Mar 20 1977 Stockton CA.  Photo by Jim Gavin.

BN 2087 Mar 20 1977 Stockton CA. Photo by Jim Gavin.

Took a break — College, women and career

Mid-1990 to early 2000s — SAL, L&N and ACL in the early 1960s (Southeast)

Early-2000s to mid-2000s — MILW, Rock and CNW in Midwest in the 1980s

Mid-2000s to late 2000s — BN, SP and WP in 1978

Late-2000s to early 2010s — CSX in Florida (modern, Lance Mindheim almost hooked me, click here to see how.)

CSX 1143 Defuniak Springs FL front Dec 27 2011

CSX 1143 Defuniak Springs FL front Dec 27 2011. Photo by Glenn Laux.

2011-2012 — CSX, NS in Midwest (modern)

2013-2014 — ATSF in New Mexico in early 1990s, UP modern

ATSF GP30 near Roswell 1993.  Photo by C. Hunt

ATSF GP30 near Roswell 1993. Photo by C. Hunt

2014-present — DRGW-SP in Southwest (right after UP merger, late 1990s), UP modern

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DRGW-SP era in southwestern Colorado, 1999. Photo by Roland Levin. See his great website –http://hem.bredband.net/drgw/antonito_pictures.htm

That is really kind of a “train wreck” because I collected equipment for all of these periods.  There is really a financial impact and almost emotional impact for jumping around so much, particularly in this era of hyper-limited runs.  Thank goodness for ebay!   Through ebay, I estimate that I have been able to cut my losses by about 70%.

Here’s a point of sharing my lack of focus, you are better off settling into a period and primary set of railroads as soon as you can.  It is a lot easier on the wallet and saves you some of the anguish of collecting then selling so much!  We often assume that once something is run, It will never be run again.  That is often not true.

As late as September 2014, I was focused on the ATSF in New Mexico around 1990.  I designed and built a track plan around the concept.  It quickly became apparent that the layout was going to be limited and difficult to operate.  I started to redesign it, but then I anguished over letting go of Roswell as I did.  As I began to gently let go of Roswell, Athearn Genesis came out with DRGW GP-40-2s.

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Here is the troublemaker. Athearn’s release of this locomotive, partially caused me to re-evaluate my ATSF in Roswell concept.

As soon as I saw them, I had an epiphany–I always wanted to model the DRGW, why wasn’t I doing it?!  As I started considering it, I also started to think how neat it would be to model the DRGW-SP era.  I grew up with the SP kind of in my backyard in Texas and felt an emotional attachment to the SP.  I thought if I model right after the UP merger, I could feature UP, MP, DRGW, SP, SSW, WP and CNW (all railroads of interest to me) all as “home road” reporting marks.  This concept really caught hold with me, and I am committed to it (for now).  I have re-designed the layout in a much more free-lance manner that offers less complicated, but richer operating scenarios including a shortline inspired by the Union Railroad of Oregon.  (Click here for a nice link on the Union Railroad of Oregon.)

Union Railroad of Oregon in Oregon.  Note tiny locomotive on train.  This was the inspiration for there being a shortline on the new layout design.  Photo by Dan Schwanz

Union Railroad of Oregon in Oregon. Note tiny locomotive on train. This was the inspiration for there being a shortline on the new layout design. Photo by Dan Schwanz

I hope it sticks.  Here’s why–

1 — It is rich with having both DRGW and SP motive power and an occasional caboose.

2 — Home road cars of UP, MP, WP, SP, SSW, CNW and CNW.  All favorites–just need some ATSF thrown in.

3 — The track plan holds great promise and having a shortline could offer a variety of operations as well as mini-operating sessions when desired.

4 — I am very tired of re-configuring my rosters!!!

5 — It operates in the part of the country that I love and is beautiful.

Time will tell.

I also seriously considered backdating to the WP (early-1980s) but decided against going that far back.  I love the WP, but it is a bit limited compared to the versatility of the above scenario, plus I can run some WP rolling stock as a home road reporting mark.

I hope my sharing my difficulties in settling on an era, may help you navigate this tricky issue that we often may not fully appreciate.  We may let ourselves just drift along being knocked off course whenever a bright and shiny new product is offered.  (Take me for instance.)  Try not to go there if you can avoid it!  It is ultimately exhausting and can derail your dreams of having an operational layout.

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Modelling Scoria Operations

Scoria loading in Antonito, CO in 1998.  Photo by Roland Levin.

Scoria loading in Antonito, CO in 1998. Photo by Roland Levin. See his great site on scoria and perlite operations in CO here.

Scoria is a volcanic rock containing many holes or vesicles. It is generally dark in color–generally dark brown, black or red. The holes or vesicles form when gases that were dissolved in the magma come out of solution as it erupts, creating bubbles in the molten rock, some of which are frozen in place as the rock cools and solidifies.  An old name for scoria is cinder.

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Scoria differs from pumice, another vesicular volcanic rock, in having larger vesicles and thicker vesicle walls, and hence is denser. Scoria has several useful characteristics that influence how it is used. It is somewhat porous, has high surface area and strength for its weight, and often has striking colors.

It has several uses:

– landscaping and drainage works.
– high-temperature insulation.
– at oil well locations to limit mud issues with heavy truck traffic.
– traction aid on ice and snow covered roads.

Iron Horse Scoria in North Dakota.  --photo courtesy of Iron Horse  Scoria.

Iron Horse Scoria in North Dakota. –photo courtesy of Iron Horse Scoria.

It is often trucked from the location and shipped by rail.

Scoria loading in North Dakota.

Scoria loading in North Dakota.  –photo courtesy of Iron Horse Scoria.

A recent post covered rail operations related to scoria in Colorado.

Now, for modelling scoria operations.

Scoria loader in Santa Fe NM, 1984.  --©photo by  B. Smith

Scoria loader in Santa Fe NM, 1984. –©photo by B. Smith

B. Smith came upon this structure in Santa Fe, NM in 1984.  After some investigation, he learned that the facility was used to ship scoria from nearby deposits.  He went on to model a similar operation on his LCN.

Model of the stucture.

Sanderson Scoria on the LCN. –photo by B. Smith

Close up showing grill for unloading tracks.

Close up showing grill for unloading tracks. –photo by B. Smith

Load ready for pick up.

Load ready for pick up. –photo by B. Smith

Empties track to the left.  --photo by B. Smith

Empties track to the left. –photo by B. Smith

I have acquired a few DRGW and MP Exactrail hoppers to supply cars for a proposed scoria operation on my layout.  Exactrail recently issued a second release of DRGW hoppers that are perfect.  The model is outstanding in its level of detail.  The included black coal loads could be used to replicate black scoria as is.

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Tangent also makes a fine product to support operations of this type.

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A Railroad Who Left the West… or… “The Weed Route”

In March 1980 the Milwaukee Road abandoned everything west of Miles City, MT.   It was tragic.  It was the end of the charismatic railway running through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.

Milwaukee Road GE EF-4 at Avery, Idaho --©photo by Steve Schmollinger

Milwaukee Road GE EF-4 at Avery, Idaho –©photo by Steve Schmollinger

The real point of this post is to connect its readers with a fantastic site entitled, “The Weed Route.”

This site which documents the end of the Milwaukee Road in the West offers stunning photographs.  Below is just a small sample the site has the offer.

Approaching Jefferson Island on the South Bank of the Jefferson River. --©photo by The Weed Route.

Approaching Jefferson Island on the South Bank of the Jefferson River. –©photo by The Weed Route.

Looking South from the Graves Hotel at The Abandoned Milwaukee Road Railroad Yard, Harlowton, Montana. --©photo by The Weed Route.

Looking South from the Graves Hotel at The Abandoned Milwaukee Road Railroad Yard, Harlowton, Montana. –©photo by The Weed Route.

Facing Northwest Up the Northern Pacific Mainline Toward Butte, Montana.--©photo by The Weed Route.

Facing Northwest Up the Northern Pacific Mainline Toward Butte, Montana.–©photo by The Weed Route.

This is truly a remarkable collection of photos if you have interest in the Milwaukee Road in the West.

Check the site out by clicking here.

Perlite, Scoria and Scenery in the closing days of the Rio Grande

I am a big fan of the Denver, Rio Grande and Western.  Unfortunately, the DRGW began to disappear in the 1990s as the effects of its 1986 merger with the Southern Pacific influence grew, but it really began to disappear in the early 2000s as the effects of its 1996 merger with the Union Pacific really took hold.  One of many segments of the Rio Grande that was interesting and scenic was the Alamosa Subdivision.  This post is going to focus on operations around Antonito, Colorado.

1984

The first segment will focus on when B. Smith visited the line in July of 1984.  It was pure DRGW then.

Perlite loads near Antonito being switched by local train in July 1984. --©photo by B. Smith

Perlite loads near Antonito being switched by local train in July 1984. –©photo by B. Smith

Local at Antonito.  Engine (GP-40) has run around its train after arriving from Alamosa.--

Local at Antonito. Engine #3086 (GP-40) has run around its train after arriving from Alamosa. –©photo by B. Smith

Covered hopper of perlite in the consist.  What a great paint scheme!

Covered hopper of perlite in the consist. What a great paint scheme! –©photo by B. Smith

Local at Antonito about to return to Alamosa with train of perlite loads.

Local at Antonito about to return to Alamosa with train of perlite loads.  –©photo by B. Smith

2003

In 2003, James Griffin documented the action in the closing days of action that reflected the DRGW heritage of the line.  His website does a great job of capturing that day in 2003 and I encourage you to check it out.

Griffin captured a photo of this DRGW perlite car sitting in Alamosa as he waited for the train coming down from Pueblo, CO. March 7, 2003.--©photo by James Griffin.

Griffin captured a photo of this DRGW perlite car sitting in Alamosa as he waited for the train coming down from Pueblo, CO. March 7, 2003.–©photo by James Griffin.

train makes it way to Alamosa, east of Fort Garland, CO.

Train makes it way to Alamosa, east of Fort Garland, CO. –©photo by James Griffin.

Near Trinchera Ranch Road, CO

Stunning scenery near Trinchera Ranch Road, CO. –©photo by James Griffin.

Scoria loading into open hoppers south of Antonito.--©photo by James Griffin.

Scoria loading into open hoppers south of Antonito.  Locally mined scoria was added to the traffic mix after B. Smith’s visit in 1984.  Scoria is volcanic rock primarily used for landscaping.–©photo by James Griffin.

Leaving the nearby perlite plant--©photo by James Griffin.

Leaving the nearby perlite plant which sits a little south of the scoria loading site.–©photo by James Griffin.

This is only a small sample of the great photos James Griffin offers on his site.

Today

Today the line is now operated by the San Luis & Rio Grande which interchanges with UP at Walsenburg, CO.  The spirit of the Rio grande lives on in the paint scheme of the SL&RG and the occasional DRGW car that makes an appearance.

San Luis and Rio Grande unit #116  in Walsenburg, CO April 4, 2014

San Luis and Rio Grande unit #116 in Walsenburg, CO April 4, 2014 — photo by Paul Leach

Modeler’s note:  The DRGW offers interesting modelling possibilities during almost any of its eras.  The 1996 to early-2000s window particularly intrigues me because of the potential to run mostly DRGW and SP motive power with the cars of the DRGW, SP, SSW (Cotton Belt), UP, Chicago and Northwestern, Missouri Pacific and Western Pacific all home road cars.

Simple pleasure of watching a grain train go by and playing detective…

Happy New Year to all!

In the last few days, a friend of mine caught a number of grain trains in Kansas and Nebraska.  He shared these great pictures.  Follow along as we “sleuth out” the original owners of these covered hoppers.  (All of these photos were taken by R. Houtwed.)

Now Northwestern Oklahoma RR, but was originally marked for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway.

Now Northwestern Oklahoma RR, but was originally marked for the Chicago and Northwestern Railway.

Former Rock Island.  The Rock went bankrupt in 1980, but hear is a clear reminder of a once great railroad.

Former Rock Island. The Rock went bankrupt in 1980, but here is a clear reminder of a once great railroad.

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Formerly owned by “Growth Nonstock Co-op.” Feels like something is missing!

Formerly owned by the Bunge Corporation.

Formerly owned by the Bunge Corporation.

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Former Union Equity. These were originally very attractive bold yellow cars with Emerald green writing.

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Formerly Ralston Jefferson. Tangent recently did a nice HO-scale replica of these cars.

Very nice specimen of a former Far-Post Elevator hopper.

Very nice specimen of a former Far-Post Coop hopper.

One of my favorites, a former Denver and Rio Grande Western RR covered hopper with "ghost" writing.

One of my favorites, a former Denver and Rio Grande Western RR covered hopper with “ghost” writing.

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Former Farmers Marketing Association car.

Lastly, a mystery car…

Can you tell us who the original owner of these car was?

Can you tell us who the original owner of this car was?

The next time you see a grain train pass, see if you can identify the original owner of the patched cars.

Have a great 2015!