Backdating or transforming a structure on your layout

By B. Smith

I decided to change the below metal siding (Pikestuff, now Rix Products) structure to a brick sided structure to more closely represent a building like Alpine, Texas’ Big Bend Wool and Mohair.   On my Limpia Canyon Northern RR, the town in which this structure sits, Sanderson, is part of the back-dated portion of the layout.  I wanted something with an “older” feel,

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I wanted something more like this–

My beautiful picture

Big Bend Wool and Mohair with Rock Island box car spotted in 1977–©B. Smith photo

I saw many loads of feed spotted with this structure in the 1970s and 80s.  (Click here for a post on the traffic I noted there in the 1980s.)

This is what the metal building became–

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The plastic “metal” siding was glued to a wood board for strength.  I removed the plastic door and window frames to provide a smooth surface and covered the “metal” siding with Faller Gmbh embossed building material-red brick (part #272-170608) and added a couple of doors made of Campbell Scale Models corrugated aluminum sheets (part # 200-801).

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I added plastic channel at the top of the doors to represent what the door rolled open on. I did not cut a door opening in the embossed brick sheet as this would have complicated the project.  C. E. Hunt graciously provided the signs which really add to the finished look of the structure.

I really like the feel of bringing in loads of feed to my back-dated structure.

The difference between it as a 1990 structure and the back-dated version is pretty stark.

From this–

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To this–

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It really is a joy to bring in one or two 40 or 50-foot boxcars back in the day when railroads still really appreciated carload traffic.  Seems more civilized.


More human somehow…

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A couple of neat visitors come to Carrizo Springs–one new, one pretty old.

A couple of General American 50′ RBLs recently came to Carrizo Springs.

I love these two cars.  They represent the closing legacy of two of my favorite fallen flags–the Rock and the Wabash.




These are both Moloco General American 50′ RBLs.  They are outstanding products.  They are among the most well-researched and detailed cars on the market today.  For other road names, click here.  I like how Moloco’s website and Facebook page offer plenty of prototype photos and aid your modeling and weathering.

Note: Some modelers have expressed concerns about the price of these cars and others, but I have come to the point that I want quality and accuracy over quantity.  I’d rather have a few dozen super accurate cars than hundreds of “near cars” and foobies.  Not saying my approach is better, we all have different takes on the hobby.  That’s a good thing.  As long as people enjoy the hobby, their approach is perfect!  I really admire people who scratch build and paint cars as well.  In reality, when I super detail a car, by the time I buy pinlifters, hoses, decals, scale couplers, better trucks and wheels, etc., it adds up closer to the price of these cars.


The Rock car was easy to prepare for 1979.  It was built in 1979.  Only light weathering was necessary.  It was hard to “lay down!”  I like heavy weathering.


It is a gorgeous car.  It means a lot to me.  I was practicing Little League baseball in Houston, the first time I spied blue Rock rolling stock cruising across the street from the field.

Now the Wabash car was a little work, but well worth it I think.

This is how it came from Moloco.


Getting it ready for 1979 was interesting.


It needed its roof walk removed.  Then I added Moloco’s RB-0802 Roofwalk support brackets.


Then I cut down the ladders, which was easy.  Then I added ACIs, wheel inspection dots, lube plates and a ladder warning.  Then it needed to be faded big time.

I applied a very thin light gray wash a couple of times, followed by a burnt umber-grimy black light wash.  I then dabbed a little dark rust and black powers here and there.

It is a bit of an effort, but worth it to me.  I have always wanted a couple of Wabash cars on my layout.


Having it come into town maybe with a Norfolk Western boxcar will be nice.  (The Wabash became a division of the Norfolk and Western in 1964 and was formally merged into the NW many years later.  In 1979, there was a great diversity of Fallen Flag cars running the rails.


The details on these cars are outstanding.


Happy modeling!


Inspiration for a Limpia Canyon Northern Customer

By B. Smith

In 1976, the ATSF still had a full-time agent at their depot in Alpine, Texas.  He claimed the boxcar sitting outside the depot one visit (June, 1976) was for the Safeway in town.

My beautiful picture

Alpine, TX ATSF station, June 1976–©photo by B. Smith

I did not see the car being unloaded and do not know how Safeway transported what was in the boxcar to their store.  They must have had a large truck is my guess.  I took a picture of the car by the depot.  I’ve often wondered what was in the car, I can’t imagine one food item going to the store in Alpine.  It must have been many different food items that were loaded into the car at a large Safeway distribution center. And it’s an SP boxcar. Did SP bring it to Alpine and interchange it to the ATSF?  So many questions now I wish I had found answers to.

My beautiful picture

SP box at Alpine, TX ATSF station, June 1976–©photo by B. Smith

I never saw another boxcar here after this one, so this may have been the last railcar shipment to Safeway in Alpine.  The agent job was eliminated in 1978 and the agent transferred to San Angelo.
Interesting that it’s a double door boxcar, one you would expect lumber in, but in 1976, the Foxworth-Galbraith Lumber in Alpine had its own spur off the SP by the SP depot.
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Note: It’s great to have a story like this behind the elements of your layout.  It makes modeling and operations so much more meaningful.
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1964 Pontiac GTO… and icons for your layout


Many of us model little (or big) icons on our layouts.  They can be cultural icons, historical icons or anything that strikes a chord with us and connects us to a larger place, time or feeling.  They can be particular freight cars we remember seeing pass by when we were 14, a favorite structure along a sleepy branch line, a commercial sign that awakens memories.  Whatever they might be, they help our layouts mean more to us than just a place to “run trains.”

Below is just a quick illustration of what I am talking about.

Dr. Pepper – I remember seeing tall bottles with this logo as a kid.  Makes me think of playing golf for $3.00 a round at Gus Wotham Golf Course in Houston.

Tracks to nowhere – I remember seeing a lot of lonely branch lines all over Texas and Arkansas that I wondered if they were still in business.  Sure enough, there was eventually a small business that still saw some rail activity.  The late-1970-early 1080s still offered a lot of opportunities to explore lonesome, yet still active rail lines.

Houston, TX May 1980-–©photo by C. E. Hunt

The Rock! — I remember seeing a lot of Rock Island action as a kid.  I caught the above on a Burlington Northern train near Houston, TX in May of 1980.  This is such an icon for me, that like B. Smith, I have adopted a dual era layout–1979 (Rock still active) and 1981 (Post BN-Frisco merger).  You’d be surprised how many cars and locomotives must exit or enter the stage based on two years.  Been spending a lot of quality time with my Railway Equipment Registers!

National Forests — I love National Parks, National Forests, BLM lands and State Parks.  To a kid growing up in Texas, being able to roam for miles on my land without encountering “No Trespassing” signs everywhere is heaven.   (Warning — Commercial for protecting our public lands.  Make your voice heard and consider joining this great organization or another like it.  I like Trout Unlimited too!)

Grocery Store Warehouses — Here is an icon that may appear on B. Smith’s LCN.  Grocery store warehouses receiving rail shipments screams out an earlier day in railroading.

Scene on the Rails West layout

Falstaff Beer – This is really an icon for all the former great brewery traditions or brands across our land. I know a lot of great new beer traditions have merged, but I still miss some of the iconic brands like Falstaff and Hamms.

Old pickups and cars — These are some of my favorite icons.  Vehicles have the potential to create a time aura like nothing else.

.Scene on the Rails West layout.

What if you really want an icon that is very difficult to achieve?  No kits, no available art work, etc.  That is when it really gets fun.

And that finally, brings us to the main topic of this post…the 1964 Pontiac GTO!  Now that’s an icon!

1964 Pontiac GTO

Considered by many to be the first muscle car, meaning high performance and low-cost, the GTO became available in 1964 as an option to the Tempest LeMans.

The GTO featured distinctive appearance items in place of standard LeMans features.

The famous Gran Turismo Omologata (GTO), better known as ‘The Goat,’ ‘The Tiger,’ and ‘The Great One’ was for the first year offered to the public.

The GTO became a much greater success than Pontiac ever thought possible.  Here’s a slick video on this iconic car.

Here’s the colors it came in in 1964–

A little over 30,000 were produced for 1964.  I am striving to figure out how a couple can be the denizen of Carrizo Springs or Artesia.  (Artesia is a former town near where the IMC mine is.  There are a few signs of the old town still in the Rails West world.)

How am I going to do that?
Good question.  I have been able to get my hands on a set of Williams Bros GTOs!  We will see what happens.  Here’s a link to Williams Brothers kits.  They are clear plastic.  I don’t know if they are still available.  The link was last updated  April 17, 2000!   It is going to be a challenge for sure.
I have about three or four projects ahead of them, so it is going to be a while.
The Rails West layout NEEDS a couple of these.  We’ll see what happens.  Stay tuned.

Sanderson, 1968 — Part II

In Part I, we two came into Sanderson in the late afternoon with box cars for Big Bend Wool and Mohair and two empty open top hoppers for scoria loading.  After little a little action, we took on water.

Let’s pick up where we left off.


About to couple into the load.


Grabbing the two empty hoppers on the main.

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And putting them on the scoria siding so they can be rolled down for loading.

(Note:  I did a post on modeling scoria operations a while back.  Click here to see it.  It shows scenes from the LCN in 1990.)

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Backing down the main to get the caboose after leaving the load on the scoria track to be picked up tomorrow.  Looks like the ACI label has just been applied to the hopper.  The crew shakes their heads at this new-fangled electronic system and say it will never work.
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With caboose in tow the locomotive trundles down to the east end to spot the two loads at Big Bend Wool and Mohair.
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1968 in West Texas and Big Bend Wool and Mohair is getting in lots of bagged feed in by rail.
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Big Bend Wool and Mohair with two cars spotted in August, 1977–©B. Smith photo
Above is a scene from 1977 that helped inspire the above operation.
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The locomotive and caboose tie up at the water plug and the crew call it a day.
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Sanderson, 1968

By B. Smith

(Note: B. Smith is embarking on an exciting new chapter for his LCN RR layout.  Rather than just operating in 1990, he will be embracing multiple eras while maintaining reasonable efforts to present prototypical rolling stock, vehicles, etc.  He and I have been having numerous philosophical chats on this as we explore ways of thinking on the subject.  I too am experimenting in this area, but with a smaller range of years [1979 and 1981, pre-Rock Island shutdown, post-SLSF-BN merger].  Likely much more to come on this, but meanwhile, enjoy a recent session on his LCN.  Don’t be surprised if you see a glitch or two as we work the kinks out. )

We arrive in Sanderson just as the LCN local arrives.  The year is 1968.  The LCN still operates a steam locomotive.  Today’s consist are two box cars for Big Bend Wool and Mohair and two empty open top hoppers for scoria loading.  (I have the wrong side of the fourth car facing the camera.  The consolidated lube plate shows.  I’m not used yet to considering which side of the car faces out.)  (Note:  We are experimenting with dual era cars being detailed for different eras on different side.)

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The crew cuts off the caboose and two empty hoppers.  The LCN is having problems getting open hoppers from the class ones and operates an eclectic assortment of second-hand hoppers to serve the scoria shipper.  The empty hopper when the train departed earlier in the day has been loaded.


The two loads for Big Bend Wool and Mohair are run to the east end and cut off on the main.

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The locomotive then backs to the water plug to fill its tender.

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After filling the tender the locomotive backs down the siding to the loaded hopper after the brakeman flags it across a crossing.

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In Part II, we’ll complete the run and tie down for the evening.

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A Rails West book report

I periodically share books that I find particularly good.  Here is a short installment in the series.  Both are older books, but very much worth acquiring if they are of interest to you and you can find them.

Tumbleweeds and Fast Freights

This book does a phenomenal job of capturing the ATSF in the State of New Mexico in the 1960-90s.  McMillan captured many nooks and crannies of the State that are rarely documented, many of which are long gone now.  Having lived in NM in the early 1990s, I really enjoyed seeing the places he documented as they were in the 1960 and 1970s.  This is an indispensable reference for modelers interested in the ATSF in the Southwest.


The photography is superb.  Below are a couple of random pages.  McMillan captured a ton of ATSF action but also often captured the surroundings.  His photos really evoke the essence of railroading in the “Land of Enchantment.”  Buy the book to see these photos in their full glory.  You can purchase from the author here.



Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad in Color

Readers of this post know the west of the Mississippi orientation of this site, but I do like a few eastern roads, such as the Wabash, Western Maryland, Penn Central and the DT&I.  You will see these roads represented in the rolling stock that visit the Rails West layout.  I have wanted the book below for some time and finally found it for a good price.  I am not disappointed in the least.  It is spectacular.  The subject matter, vivedness and clarity of the photos are great.


Most of the photos depict 1970s action (some 1960s and 1980s) and share a lot of rolling stock as well as locomotives.  It is great for someone like me who models the late 1970s-early 1980s.


The mine in the above photo inspired the IMC mine served by the C&C RR on my layout.  If you like the DT&I or even just 1970s railroading, buy this book if you can find it. Unfortunately, it is out of print but you can buy it used or a digital copy from Morning Sun Books. You won’t be disappointed.  Like Tumbleweeds and Fast Freights, this book captures the context for the trains as well so you see a lot of rail-related structures, industries, scenery and rolling stock.

For more on books, see my September 23, 2016 post entitled, Ton Ten (actually 12) railroad books.

The gold standard for me is still–


As I wrote last year–

Southern Pacific in Oregon — I love this book.  The photography is stunning and it really focuses on my era, the late 1970s-early 1980s.  The pictures are crystal clear and very vivid. This has to be one of the best pictorial railroad books ever produced.  Sadly, the company that produced this book is no longer in business.  Their Northwest Passages book on the Burlington Northern is a close second.

I hope one day soon, I can share with you an excellent book entitled–


Ship it on the Frisco, an all color book on Frisco operations across the system.  It was such a photogenic railroad that this book will be written soon I hope.  There are a few decent books out there on the Frisco, but none that matches the quality of the above books. Oddly enough, the closest I have seen is Burlington Northern and its Heritage by Steve Glischinski.  It had a small but great chapter on the Frisco.

As always, my “go to” book dealers are–

Overland Hobbies in Indiana owned by Brian Marsh


Arizona Hobbies in Arizona owned by Randy Curtin

Brian and Randy offer great prices and are both great to deal with!

Happy reading and railroading!