Saturday, October 27, 2012

A little walk down R.

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to walk down the R Street Corridor with Dr. Michael Schmandt as he prepares for one of his semi-regular walking tours he gives to geography students. I had a really good time and there was a lot of knowledge sharing between the two of us. I was able to provide additional bits of historical context here and there (just little things, he knows the history of the street very well indeed) and he filled me in a lot on the current state of redevelopment of the corridor as well as some of the urban geography concepts that R Street exemplifies.

I had a number of historic photos from different eras of different locations on R Street and my copy of the 1946 Southern Pacific R Street "station plan" with me. "Station" in this context comes from the railroad specific definition: "a place that is designated in the timetable by name". So it's essentially  a map of the industry sidings and the building footprints in the 1 inch = 100 foot scale. Even though it's a S.P. plan. it helpfully shows the layout of both the Western Pacific as well as the Southern Pacific tracks. Time and again we were able to compare the current state of R Street with the historic pictures and the station plan.

Along the way, Michael pointed out a number of things I didn't realize were there on R. For instance, the parking lot for Otto construction at 2nd and R features rail borders that almost assuredly came from R Street - possibly, I would speculate, from the sidings of the Western Pacific freight house that used to occupy that space.

Also I didn't know there is a pedestrian tunnel that links the older and newer CalPERS buildings, and in that tunnel is a small display of historic pictures and artifacts. The display is part of the result of the archaeological and historical research that was done before construction of the new building.

The other, and perhaps most glaring thing I've missed are the new historical plaques that were installed with the new streetscape in the 10th and R region. There are three or four of them embedded in the sidewalk at various places.
 Things you learn from plaques....I didn't know the Fuller building wasn't built by the W.P. Fuller Co
(pretty sure it was at least added onto by them though) 
It was good walk, a great conversation and I even burned a few calories while I was at it! Not bad for a Fall Friday in Sacramento.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Conductor Heads and Downspouts

As the in window air conditioners were obviously not original with the building it is not surprising that there is quite a bit of external electrical conduit on the freight office walls.  But before I can do any modeling of the electrical conduit I need to tackle the noodle at the bottom of the spaghetti: the downspout.

It still amazes me the things I learn on this project. I had to look up what the thingie was that is at the top of the downspout.  It's called a conductor head, or sometimes a leader head and it collects the rainwater, in this case from whatever drainage sloping on the otherwise flat roof, before going down the downspout.

My conductor head is just a shaped chunk of plastic square rod.  I say "just" but it took me several hours before was happy with what you see- or happy enough to stop. I'm not a sculptor, Jim! 

I even hollowed as much out of the top as I dare ---  Hopefully the top of conductor heads were open... I'm not sure if I've ever seen one from the top.  My conductor head is a little bit shorter and squater than the original but I still think it looks good. 

On the original downspout on the offices north wall it empties into a pipe with disappears in the elevated concrete walkway. I managed to find a piece of suitable pipe from my spares that, after a bit of sanding seemed to fit the bill. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

WP Freight House Details: in window air conditioners

OK, so I'm jumping the gun a little. I'm still cutting plastic for walls and dealing with windows and here I am talking details.

Sorry. Can't help it. Like many of my fellow railroad modelers, I like detail parts.

From Bob Clark's pictures of the freight office in the 1970s in the previous post, we can see quite a few of those in window air conditioners - and evidence that there were more sometime in the past. Sacramento has always had a habit of being really hot in the summer and this was one way to beat it. I've seen earlier pictures of this freight office that showed they used a combination of 1st floor awnings and these little air conditioning units.

So I picked up  this set of BLMA photo-etched (I'm assuming) stainless steel air conditioners from one of the local train shops. They fold up quickly and easily and I think they look really sharp. In one of these pictures you'll see a cast metal air conditioner from my detail part collection of doo-dads that I thought looked good enough at one time... ah progress.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Freight House on the Drop In Module

The modular club I belong to (Sacramento Modular Railroaders) is developing a new module type. We're calling these new modules 'drop-ins'.  The club owns two turn loops that have had open centers since they were built several years ago. The idea of the drop-ins is to fill those holes and also to provide the opportunity to construct mini modules that provide additional switching possibilities for our ops sessions.

They will be smallish at 18" wide by 32" long - with a single track centered on line 7" from one edge.

I'm a big fan of this new module type. Their small size means it can fit in the trunk of my car and I can quickly jump to the thing I like most about model railroading - building buildings.  I'm  scratch-building a freight house for my drop-in and it is based closely on the WP freight house that used to be at 3rd and R streets. I've written about this freight house and it's sister at 2nd and R quite a while ago here.

Since that early blog post I've asked and been given permission from Bob Clark to display some of his great pictures he took back in the 1970s of the building. You should be able to double click on the pictures to enlargeify them.

3rd street - West elevation 

freight office north elevation - the truck side
freight office south elevation

further down the south elevation - 

4th street - east elevation. That's the logo of a freight forwarder.

If I did the building in it's entirety, it would measure out to something like 42".  I was not a math major, but I believe that is more inches than I have drop in module length.  So I'm condensing the building - and I'm doing that by only modeling three railroad loading doors instead of the prototype's five. It should still look like a worthy freight house though, and I should be able to just fit it in at just under 32".

So I began cutting plastic and modifying window castings. Here are the first two walls I've been working on.  Wish me luck and the strength to persevere!   
west elevation office wall

north elevation office wall


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

"Stop All Trains at Caliente"

(My email account was briefly high-jacked a couple of weeks ago, and an errant posting to this blog was one of the unhappy byproducts. My apologies to my readers. )

My fascination with the railroad history of the R Street corridor tends to concentrate my attention on the micro level, a part of a single switching district (albeit one with two class one railroads in it). Every once in a while though it’s good to look at a somewhat larger picture. Something of a regional scale would be nice… Something that takes me from the world of the switch list to the world of timetable and train order (TT&TO)…

Model railroad operations embracing TT&TO rules need a large layout, preferably with a terminal on each end and some decent room to run in between. It needs enough willing and knowledgeable operators, dispatchers and train crews to make it believable. But if there is a group that is willing to do the work needed to setup and crew such an operation, and they have a layout large enough and configured correctly, then there is no better simulation on earth that can better replicate the teamwork and strategic thinking that was needed to move trains across the country in the era before locomotive equipped radios and GPS.

On the weekend of June 9-10 2012, I was given the opportunity to take part in such a simulation. It was a two-day operations session at the La Mesa Club in the San Diego Model Railroad Museum.
Earthquake damage near Bealville.
The La Mesa club is famous for reproducing in HO scale the territory between Mojave and Bakersfield including the dramatic Tehachapi Loop. La Mesa's layout is set in 1952, and the club is meticulous about the details that make that date ring true. For instance, there was a 7.3 magnitude earthquake in July of 1952 in Kern county, and the La Mesa club has faithfully modeled some of the earthquake damage to one of the tunnels between Cliff and Bealville.

Every quarter or so, the club hosts a weekend TT&TO ops session which can only be described as ‘hardcore”. They run trains from 8 am to 8pm on both Saturday and Sunday. The two twelve-hour sessions taken together represent a full 24 hour day in 1952. Not the same day over and over; time keeps advancing. I don’t know how many sessions they’ve done, but I believe they started their clock sometime in November of 1952, and when we finished for the weekend when I was there, it was December 4th, 1952.

They keep track of everything. At the end of the weekend, the location of each train is recorded and then re-staged at that location at the start of the next session to finish its run, three months later.

The setup obviously requires a tremendous amount of effort and organization, which includes not only the trains but the paperwork as well. Any orders left outstanding are retained and given to the new crew who will pick up the action next time around. My friend, Robert from San Jose (who ‘scored’ me the invitation and was my roommate for the weekend) and I saw a bit of this effort on Friday night after we got into town. Getting an advanced peek allowed us to get a little more familiar with the layout and its maze of duck-unders and hidden track work.

The map from the La Mesa Timetable.
My experience with TT&TO operations is limited, and certainly nothing could prepare me for operations on this scale. Fortunately they sent a ‘pilot’ with me on my first two jobs who was very knowledgeable and walked me through the thought process a train crew has to go through to figure out whether it’s safe to venture out on the railroad (and how far). Our first job was a westward extra SP freight train that was at Woodford at the end of the previous session. We were given the clearance form (can’t go on the main without it) and the two original orders, numbers 58 and 60. As an extra we didn’t have rights over any scheduled train in the timetable, but the orders gave us some meets with some of the later sections of second class train 806.

Order number 58 gave us our mission and gave us some meets with those 806 sections I mentioned and an eastward extra:
Bena is the end of single track on the layout when going westward and if you have rights over a train to Bena you don’t worry about them at all. Kern Jct. is essentially Bakersfield, the end of the line.
Order 60 was addressed to extra 3259 which amended our and another westward extra’s meet locations with him and allowed him to advance against us past Caliente:
When we picked up the train at Woodford, my friend Robert was playing the part of the Woodford operator and he handed us an additional order. Order 66:
This helped some. It was just after 8 pm ( a little after 8 am on Saturday morning in reality). Our extra had originally been called up around 6 pm. The two hour delay now put us on 808’s time. He was due to leave Bakersfield at 8 pm if he was on time (and we had to assume that unless given an order to the contrary), and we would have to calculate where we would have to duck in to a siding to let him past, but this order relieved us of that chore.

After a couple of runs with my pilot, I was running trains on my own and having to make these calculations by myself (sometimes with the help of passing TT&TO veterans… they were very kind to me down in San Diego).

At the end of the day on Saturday I had just finished up a long slog with a slow extra that had made it through the territory without incident. I was tired and looking forward to knocking off, but then there was word of an accident near Caliente. One of a second class freight train’s helper engines derailed somehow in one of the tunnels, actually hitting the abutment and ‘clothes-lined’ a string of eight PFE reefers off the track, four of which tumbled into the river at milepost 334.8.

Just part of the wreck.
This wasn’t staged; it was a real and spectacular derailment. Instead of just re-railing and continuing on, the folks running the session decided to try to “game it out”. They ruled that the crew of that helper locomotive was killed and the locomotive itself would need to be towed. The Caliente operator told me the dispatchers were consulting the rulebook (the La Mesa club has their own rule book based closely on the 1952 SP rulebook) on how to write up orders for this sort of thing. First they sent a simple but dramatic order to the Caliente operator:

This was order no 17 (note the lower order number since we were into a new day and the order numbers start over at 1 with the new day). There was probably a similar order given to Bakersfield at some point, but I never saw it.

The plan was to send wreck trains from both ends of the layout and clear the line. I was offered to run the wreck train from Bakersfield, and even though I was pretty beat, I couldn't refuse.

I picked up my clearance at Kern Jct. with order number 18:
I wouldn’t have to worry about trains coming up behind me during that time window.

My work train at the wreck location.
Both wreck trains had to rearrange their things to get the cranes on the respective points. I did my reshuffling at Ilmon. When we both arrived we simulated clearing the line and then the recovery of each reefer. When the cranes were positioned on either side of a wrecked reefer we could 0-5-0 it back to the track. The other work train pulled each reefer back to Caliente separately which was the only way to keep the crane on the point. In reality, most of the reefers would not have been anywhere close to road worthy after that tumble, some probably smashed to bits (fresh, but rapidly wilting, produce as far as the eye could see…). Regardless, it was a fun, if long, exercise. Just about everybody had a camera out. 

Work Trains at Caliente
After we cleared the line, both work trains reported to Caliente and that ended the Saturday session. Saturdays session was actually about 14 hours. We went a little long because of the ‘incident’. So about 10 PM on Saturday, the crew settled down for a well deserved pizza feeding frenzy there in the museum. I was beat, but it was a good kind of tired. It sorta felt like I earned overtime pay!  

On Sunday we picked up the action with both work trains taking the ‘damaged’ reefers from Caliente and the ‘damaged’ helper locomotive that was left set out at Ilmon to Bakersfield so the repair crews could get to work on the equipment. After that, the run session could continue normally.

I was able to run many trains over the course of the weekend from hotshot passenger trains to lowly extra freights. I made more than a few mistakes, but I learned a lot while committing them. At various times, I was offered yard assignments and a switching job- all of which I turned down. I’ll more than likely accept next time, but I was simply enjoying myself too much on the hill.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Arch and the Power Poles

The Arch - at 10th and R.
One of the new obelisks on R.
R Street redevelopment continues with some recent streetscape improvements. On the 19th of January, the first phase of these improvements were officially celebrated with the lighting of the new arch. FUEL Creative Group, designers of the street arch, a smaller pedestrian arch and stand alone obelisks, drew on the industrial history of the street for inspiration. When they scouted present day R Street, they found a couple of aged metal power poles and used them as a design element.

The poles, one at 8th street and another at 21st street, have long intrigued me. They are of a latticed metal construction and certainly have an industrial flavor to them.

In my photo collection of R Street, they pop up in the background in various places. The earliest photos I have date from the mid 1930s, and they were present back then. Even in those early photos, the pole line they are a part of is mostly made up of a wooden poles. But it is evident that there were more metal poles in the past than the two survivors we have today. Interestingly, nowhere in the photos I've studied is there evidence of them further west than 8th street. And this leads me to a theory.

I speculate that the poles date back to 1908 when the Great Western Power Company built a pole line from Brighton to a power house at 8th and R Streets.

The pole at 21st and R as it looks in 2012.
It's only about 2/3rds its original height. 
That's the old Bekins Building in the background   
Around 1908, Great Western built a power house at 8th and R Streets in its bid to compete with PG&E in Sacramento - especially for industrial customers as could be found along R Street. Great Western had a big hydroelectric plant at Big Bend on the Feather River that was the largest hydroelectric operation west of the Mississippi at the time*. The company transmitted 60,000 volts** on a high tension line from Big Bend to a substation at Brighton (Folsom and Power Inn Rd) on its way to Oakland. At Brighton a smaller feeder line came into Sacramento to the power house at 8th and R Streets. According to a historical survey sheet prepared by the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation, the 'building received 22,000 volts from Brighton and transformed it to 2300 volts for urban use'.
The power house at 8th and R from a 1912 issue of Electrical World.

Great Western Power was acquired by PG&E circa 1930 and the publicly owned Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) took over the electrical grid after a long and contentious fight on the evening of the last day of 1946. The building was in use up to at least the early 1980s but has since been torn down.

I'm reasonably certain the metal power poles were headed to the power house and their job was to transmit power from Brighton - I just would like to find some documentation that they date all the way back to 1908 or at least back to the Great Western days.

I do plan on modeling at least one of these poles for one of the modules or the home layout at some point. If done well they would make a striking model.

I'm glad FUEL Creative based part of their design on these old poles. They are very likely artifacts that have been a part of the long and interesting history of electricity in Sacramento.

* photo caption next to page 199 in PG&E the Centennial History of the Pacific Gas and Electric
 **  ibid p. 223 upgraded to 100,000 volts in 1909,