Archive for February, 2010

Strasburg Railroad

February 25, 2010

How ironic. I grew up in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, and never got to visit the Strasburg Railroad even though my family made frequent trips to nearby Lancaster County. I’m a direct descendent of the first settler in Lancaster County, Hans Herr. Now, every time I make a trip to Pennsylvania I try to include a visit to the Strasburg and to the museum across the street. I rescued some files from a cranky hard drive this morning and found this picture taken from the rear platform of a train headed for Lehman Place, the junction with the old PRR.


PRR Freight Schedules

February 21, 2010

As I build my model railroad, I have no problems planning for passenger operations. As a kid, I collected every Pennsylvania Railroad public timetable I could get my hands on. I learned the nuances of east-west operations, the frequent New York and Washington trains, and the connections to other roads at all the major end points. But, how do I faithfully emulate freight operations? Sure, I saw plenty of trains but never found a timetable for freights in those days. Thanks to the Web, it’s easier than ever to recover information that is decades old. And here’s one for freight operations on the Pennsy. Thanks to Randy Williamson. His site is here.

High & Wide

February 18, 2010
Georgia Road 907 with high & wide at Oakland Junction

Georgia Road 907 with high & wide at Oakland Junction

If there is anything that the railroad does well, it is moving large, heavy things from one place to another.  In particular, very large things, such as the locomotive and car above.  The technical name for such train operations is a High & Wide movement.

For commodities such as coal or grain, the railroad is a giant conveyor, hauling products from producer to purchaser.  For container traffic, the railroad is the universal interface between truck and ship.  But, when it comes to BIG, the railroad is unique.  Certainly, there are trucks that haul these things, but over public roads at the risk of damage to taxpayer owned property.  Given our predilection toward things railroad, we naturally think that the railroad does it best, and it probably does.

I suspect that railroaders love high and wide movements, if for no other reason than it is a rare opportunity for the railroad and its people.  Not to mention that there are lots of cool cars to go with the operation itself.

Specialized Equipment

If something big  is going to operate on the railroad, you need a clearance car to figure out just how big a car load can be.  In earlier times, the mechanical clearance car was just the ticket.

Model of an early clearance car

Model of an early clearance car

All the big railroads had at least one of these beauties, the sole possession of the engineering department.  The clearance car generated no revenue itself, but it was a tool for generating revenue.  Sometimes it was rented out to other railroads, but, regardless, this car was used to measure the side and vertical clearances of each railroad line.

The dimensions of each line were kept in the engineering department’s files, and when a high and wide movement was proposed, the engineering department was consulted before the large load ever hit the rails.

The car above had mechanical arms which were extended, then the car was pulled about the railroad.  When a close clearance was encountered, the arms were pushed inward as the train passed by.  The railroad’s civil engineers made little notes about these limited clearances for future reference.

Likewise, the civil engineers were aware of all of the bridges on their railroad and what weight that they were designed to support.  Again, when a large load was proposed for haulage, the engineers made a mile-by-mile analysis of just what could be hauled by the railroad on that line.

Once the large load was booked, it usually was placed onto a flat car.  Simply a flat surface with wheels and braking equipment, the flat is a flexible piece of equipment for just this sort of job.  Many of the unusual loads are simply strapped onto the flat car, while others require specialized flat cars.

Georgia Railroad Athens Branch High & Wide

Georgia Railroad Athens Branch High & Wide

These photos from J. D. Jones of South Carolina:

GE Turbine Flat

Note the crew cabs at each end of the special transformer carrier car.  Before they shipped the actual transformer, a test load was built to operate over the proposed train route:

The railroads later decided that having the transformer company employees riding on a potentially unstable car was a potential problem, so a special car was created for their comfort:

Other high & wides:

Some other examples from the web:

Models of High & Wide Cars

Lionel made a large number of special load cars.  In addition to the rockets, helicopters, satellites and nuclear waste cars, they also made some reasonably realistic models:

Scale Cars

Another cool toy for the high and wide operation is the Schnabel car.  There are all sorts of Schnabel cars, and most are owned by the shippers rather than the railroads.  There have been brass models of Schnabel cars in several different scales, but credit goes to Märklin for mass producing one in Z-Scale:

Of course, converting the car to an “empty” is irresistible:

Great Link for PRR

February 16, 2010

I re-discovered one of the best links for Pennsy fans and modelers that I had bookmarked on a different computer. It’s filled with rosters, photos, equipment diagrams, and documents related to operations on the Standard Railroad of the World.

Kalmbach, Time to Grow Up, Digitally

February 12, 2010

I found my Model Railroader e-mail newsletter in my “in” box a few minutes ago and had the same reaction I’ve always had. But this time I’m going to say something about it here.

Kalmbach doesn’t get it. Neither does Taunton Press , publisher of my other favorite magazine, Fine Cooking. Not too long ago both publishers derived all of their revenues from advertising, subscriptions and newsstand sales. With the advent of the Web, both companies claimed the opportunity to drive subscription sales by building a wall into their respective Web sites. The Web hates walls, i.e. the Web users who want to rely on these sites for added value for the magazine. Or, as MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte argues, in the digital world “information wants to be free.”

I buy Model Railroader at my favorite hobby shop, Riverdale Station, in metro Atlanta, and Fine Cooking at the Publix near my home. That way I have a pristine copy unmutilated by the USPS and a more comfortable cash flow. Magazine publishers are under accounting rules that don’t allow them to book subscription revenue all at once. They can book revenue only incrementally as each issue covered by a subscription is actually published. But that doesn’t prevent them from earning interest off a subscription in the meantime.

There are sober and successful business models in operation these days that work because you make more money by giving away for free services that people really want. I’m working on one now. I had a four hour meeting with colleagues today to finalize structural issues. We’re creating a marketplace for a certain profession to freely exchange resources. Free! Oh, by the way, members can also sell resources for modest amounts and the enterprise collects a fee for each for-profit transaction. After all, it costs time and money to create and maintain the market place.

The Model Railroader Web site should be entirely free. It would drive more sales of the magazine, more subscriptions by people who find extensive resources on the Web site, and… it might even attract more people to the hobby! How about that, Kalmbach? You prosper by growing the business.

Now, one more thing. I have a collection of every issue of MR over the past 30 years. I can access an index and find anything I want to support a modeling project, etc. But new “arrivals” to the hobby don’t have that advantage. I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with a corporate vice president of Apple who acknowledged some hesitancy in getting into the music business. But, what it meant was the company built a global distribution platform for digital media. Kalmbach, give away the current issues of the newsletter without a wall. Build a site for back issues, searchable by topics, and charge $0.99 per download. I bet you’d increase revenues substantially and build a franchise that’s really open to the future. If you need help, Kalmbach, let me know.

Hobby Transition

February 7, 2010

If you grew up in the 1950s these are the kits you bought or wished you could buy at your local hobby shop. This is a fascinating history of the transitions in kit production that began in the 1940s. Visit the home page to see model kits of all types. By the way, this is posted for information only. I have nothing at stake in this commerce. You’ll even find Strombecker here!

A Bad Day

February 6, 2010

When to say “Holy crap!” This is amazing. A rear facing dashcam in a locomotive cab captures the consequence of a freight train running through a tornado.

Western Rail Images

February 4, 2010

A post in a Yahoo group led me to this site with the photography of James “Jim” L. Ozment (1935-2009). This is excellent work. Just leaning back to watch the slide show on the home page is fascinating.