Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How the Freeway Came to LA, and other links

Time to share a bunch of interesting links related to the 1930's.

If you're interested in maps, geography, and civil engineering check out Matt Roth's talk on "Concrete Utopia: Roads and Freeways in Los Angeles", which he gave at the Huntington Library a few years ago. It's an interesting lecture, talking a bit about how the LA freeways came about, as well as the challenges of getting folks to pay for major infrastructure improvements at any time in the past.

Available here, or in the "California and the West" series of talks in iTunes.

I found this as part of my search for interesting podcasts. I've been listening to a bunch on my drive into work - both oral histories such as interviews with Los Gatos resident Richard Mors, as well as You Can't Eat the Sunshine, a Los Angeles history-and architecture series that interviews folks interested in Los Angeles and its downtown. The creators of "You Can't Eat the Sunshine" also worked on the 1947 Project and On Bunker Hill. Both websites documented the seedier side of Los Angeles through newspaper articles, crime stories, and historical research on old hotels.

If you're modeling the 1930's and want some reminders of what life was really like, Frederick Lewis Allen's Since Yesterday documents life in the United States from September 1929 (just before the great depression until September 1939 (just before World War II). It's a remarkably readable book, combining major news items, trivia, and a strong sense of how our grandparents might have seen the changes occurring before their eyes. Allen wrote a similar book, "Only Yesterday", about the 1920's.

And finally, for some San Francisco content: the YouTube channel Dirty Old Bar visits old-style neighborhood bars around San Francisco to meet the folks who run them and who visit them. The visits hint at San Francisco history; for example, their visit to Clooney's, a Mission-district working-man's bar that opens at 6:00am, lets you one of the last bars catering to swing-shift workers coming off duty. It's easy to imagine the place filled with cannery workers, machinists, and longshoremen; the Vasona Branch deserves a bar like that.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

3d Printing a Bean Spray Track-Pull Tractor

See the previous article for a history of the Bean Spray Track-Pull Tractor.

Normally, I’m not much of a fan of making models “because they’re cool”; I’d prefer to focus on models that I can use on my model railroad, rather than build some cute models that will just get in the way. I'll usually describe projects that aren't appropriate for the layout as "spec(ulative) projects" in a pejorative sense. I don't have much storage space for random models, and would prefer to focus on stuff that will improve the layout.

However, the Track-Pull caught my attention because of a great publicity photo, the San Jose connection, and because - to be blunt - I was bored.

Track-Pull Tractors in front of Anderson-Barngrover. History San Jose collection.

The publicity photo, from History San Jose’s collection, shows a whole herd of Track-Pulls rolling in front of Bean Spray Pump on their way to the Southern Pacific freight house on San Pedro Street. It’s a great shot, both for the Track-Pulls and the Mission-style Anderson Barngrover headquarters in the back of the photo. When I saw the image a few years back, I knew I wanted to do something with that scene, and saved it away in a set of photos I keep around for inspiration.

Last month, I was looking for a little 3d printing project, and remembered those wacky Bean Spray tractors. “Huh, I wonder if I could 3d print one of these.”

Unlike some of the other models I’ve done, there’s precious little information available on the Track-Pulls, and only a few examples still in existence. (If I was smart, I’d also drive by a few lots around San Jose that have rusty farm machinery, just in case there's an actual Track-Pull tractor hiding nearby.) The nearest actual Track-Pull is at a museum up in the Sacramento Valley - reachable, but I'm not enough of a tractor fan to drive up there just to get measurements of a model.

I did a bit of searching on the Internet, turning up a few historical documents and a bunch of photos from the tractor restoration crowd. The best I found was an article from the October 30, 1919 issue of Motor Age, where the magazine reviews the tractor. Motor Age describes the Track-Pull’s engine portion as 30 inches wide, 43 inches high, and six feet long. The tricycle rear wheels were 66 inches apart (though a separate magazine review claimed it was only five feet wide), and the whole machine had a length of 110 inches. Beyond these rough numbers, there’s no other data on the Track-Pull apart from photos.

First part of design: tread

Full model

With the little information I had, I started trying to draw the Track-Pull. Like most of my models, I sketched my version of the Track-Pull in SketchUp. I used the rough dimensions, but eyeballed nearly everything else from the few photos.

To get started, I first modeled the Track-Pull in terms of rough shapes, and slowly refined and detailed the model. The caterpillar tread assembly was the first bit; I guessed at an overall size, drew its overall shape, then slowly added the treads and machinery. To increase my confidence, I printed out that assembly on its own just to prove that it could print, and so I could actually see the model in the flesh. (That's a nice aspect of having a 3d printer in my office - I can print out half-done models just for the encouragement, rather than having to send to Shapeways only when I've got a model that I'm willing to spend the money to print.)

Once I had the tread, I started roughing out additional parts of the model - first the gross details such as the outriggers, then the rough shape of the engine and radiator. I then started throwing detail on each piece, sort of how movie model makers throw on "greebles" - random detail - to make their models look more realistic.

Detail at front of model - node mount for fan bearing

This model was a good deal more complex than many of the models I've done for the model railroad. One trick was to work in terms of subassemblies. I used SketchUp's "group" command to make the larger assemblies (the tread, radiator, fuel tank, and outriggers) into single elements. When I needed to get to a hard-to-reach section of the model, I'd select the group that blocked access, and would move it so it was ten feet above or below the model. I could then move the part back into place easily.

I also added 3d parts for much of the piping, such as from the radiator to the engine and back. Normally, SketchUp has lots of problems with curved and round surfaces; having pipes intersect or turn right angles is particularly painful. Because many of these pipes were small (at most 2-3 inches across), I instead drew all the piping with hexagon shapes, and hand-edited the intersections between piping.

HO scale version

O scale version

For this model, I also printed the model in HO and in O scale both to see the detail and just for the fun of making a larger model. The HO model can print as one piece (with some extra supports to cut away); the O scale model had to be printed with the engine and tread as one piece, and the two wheeled outriggers as a separate part.

These models aren't complete and are still missing features. One obvious omission are the dual wheels for controlling steering and engine speed. As is, these are still impressive models.

Now, the Track-Pull isn't my usual sort of model to build, but it was a fun project. Better yet, it's a nice reminder how the 3d printer really broadens my modeling. Even a few years ago, my only choices for an orchard tractor would have been a die cast or plastic model (maybe one of those modern John Deeres I bought a while back), or else a detailed but pricey white metal kit such as any of the really nice Holt bulldozer tractor kits available from Rio Grande Models. 3d printing gives us the chance to get a wider selection of models.

Drawing those models also gave me the chance to find some interesting stories about how one particularly crazy tractor design came from San Jose. Crazy startups aren't just a 21st century creation of Silicon Valley.


Great thanks to the Flickr user who took pictures of the Track-Pull at the Hendricks Agricultural Museum up in Woodland.

Crazy Ideas in the Valley of Hearts Delight

Track-Pull Tractors in front of Anderson-Barngrover. History San Jose collection.

Out here in Silicon Valley, we’re a little crazy.

Well... a lot, actually.

We come up with crazy ideas: dog food delivered in bulk by drone. Uber for sharing underwear. Self-driving unicycles. Luxury chicken day care.

And, after all, it’s a tradition out here. We've been coming up with crazy ideas since the 1880's. We saw that in the past with stories of Victor Greco’s early adventures in the tomato paste business, Stanley Hiller’s apricot-pit charcoal gamble, or Johnathan Coykendall's prune coffee.

Or even Alfred Johnson's single footed tricycle-style caterpillar tractor.

Oh my, you haven’t heard about the Bean Spray Track-Pull?

At the turn of the century, San Jose had several businesses making farming equipment, all finding success by filling the needs for the orchardists and canneries filling the Santa Clara Valley. The Anderson Prune Dipper Company, Barngrover-Hull, and Knapp Plow are all well known. There was also the quite successful Bean Spray Pump Company, founded by John Bean back in 1884.

John Bean, the Steve Jobs of orchard spraying equipment.

John Bean was a prolific inventor, designing farm equipment and vehicles in the midwest. When he sold his design for a deep well pump for a significant payday, he decided to leave the midwest and find a climate better for his tuberculosis. He settled on an almond orchard near Los Gatos, prepared for a quiet retirement. However, like many gardeners, he quickly got frustrated with garden pests as scale infested his orchard. When he found that commercial sprayers were poorly designed and couldn't reach the tops of the trees in his orchard, he invented his own… and founded a new pump-making company in 1884. That company grew to produce many different sorts of machinery for agriculture.

The Crazy Startup Guys

By 1915, the Bean Spray Pump Company was a big, established company in the Valley, and its namesake inventor was long-retired. Just like today's big tech companies, Bean Spray had to search around for their inspiration for products to keep growing, either from folks inside the company, hiring new designers in-house (such as acqi-hiring engine design expertise by purchasing the Cushman company in Nebraska), or sometimes seeking help from some crazy startup guys.

The startup guys, in this case, were Alfred C. Johnson, James H. McCollough, and Fred D. Calkins. Alfred was the machinist and entrepreneur, Calkins the assistant, and McCollough apparently was the business guy.

Alfred Johnson had been quite the tractor entrepreneur. Although only in his mid thirties, he'd already convinced his family to join him in previous crazy tractor projects. The Johnson family, originally from Iowa, moved to Dixon (near Davis) before 1900. Alfred must have been quite the precocious engineer, for in 1907, the family appears in Sunnyvale (just after the arrival of the Hendy Iron Works in town.) Together, Alfred and his father started the Johnson Traction Engine Company, eventually pulling in brothers and assorted helpers to the cause.

Johnson Toe-Hold Tractor, built by Hendy Iron Works. Photo from Bancroft Library collection

Their first design, the "Toe-Hold Tractor", was a low-power, low-to-the-ground model suited for orchard work first sold in 1911. The Toe-Hold tractor's "secret sauce" were the fins on the wheel, particularly suitable for traction in wet soil. Alfred and his brothers originally prototyped the idea by welding horseshoes on a wheel, but the patented design used steel fins instead. The Johnson family sold the design to the Hendy Iron Works folks, which put the design into production in 1911. In 1913, Hendy shared the rights to the design with the Rumely Company from Indiana (but continued producing the tractor). Rumely claimed forty tractor sales as soon as they bought the design, even as they struggled to open their San Francisco sales office.

Johnson also designed a variant called the "Johnson Improved Tractor" for Hendy, (the recumbent bike of the tractor world). The Improved Tractor was similar to the Toe-Hold, but had additional sheet metal covering the motors, moving parts, and wheels, probably to avoid snagging tree branches in the orchard. Johnson, his father, and Calkins patented several of the improvements from their tractors in subsequent years.

Meanwhile, McCollough was just out of U.C. Berkeley with a degree in Commerce in 1904. He apparently was searching for his chance at great glory, but meanwhile worked various jobs, running a dry goods store in Sunnyvale and running the San Jose Roofing Company for a couple years (according to old city directories.) Johnson, McCollough, and Calkins must have met up around 1910 in Sunnyvale, and decided that designing tractors wasn't a bad way of life.

Yuba Ball Tread Tractor. From Yuba Construction Company catalog, Wisconsin Historical Society collection..

The new team decided to take a second crack at the tractor market. Together, Johnson, McCollough, and Calkins bought a patent for a "ball tread" tractor from Clarence Henneuse, a tractor designer working for the Best Tractor company in Oakland. Henneuse's design had simplified caterpillar tread design by using huge ball bearings between the caterpillar track and race. Although Best didn't think much of the design, our three heroes apparently saw its virtues. Johnson worked to make it practical and designed a transmission for the new tractor design. The three then pulled in some manufacturing help from Detroit, and built the "Calkins & Johnson Ball Tread" tractor, which outwardly resembled the early Best caterpillar tractors. The three ran a business selling them in San Jose for a very short time, but after a quick bankruptcy sold out to the Yuba Construction Company around 1913 which continued making the design.

Advertisement, Track-Pull tractor.

All these designs were large, bulky tractors. Their next focus was going to be quite the other way.

The Crazy Startup Guys Pitch Their Idea

In 1915, the trio took their next crazy idea to Bean Spray. "Orchards," the crazy startup guys said, "need small, light-duty tractors. Those caterpillar-style tractors are just the thing for orchards. But all the caterpillar-style tractors had two separate caterpillar treads - which seemed two times as much as any tractor really needs. Why not have a tractor with a single caterpillar tread?"

The Track-Pull tractor really did have all those features. It had a single caterpillar tread, and a tricycle-like rear body for the driver and to attach plows. The tractor was low-to-the-ground to move under the trees, and narrow enough to fit between orchard rows. The narrow and compact body was unlikely to snag on tree branches. It was lightweight and spread its weight so it wouldn't compact the ground under the trees. It could also turn on a dime, with a five foot turning radius.

Bean Spray Pump was convinced, and bought the idea; the new Track-Pull Tractor became quite the hit. The original model sold $419,000 in tractors in 1916, and $723,000 in 1917 in 1917; the photo of the Track-Pulls driving from the Bean Spray Pump plant to the Southern Pacific's freight station at San Pedro Street represents some of those sales. The era's equivalent of Consumer's Reports describing it as appropriate for two or three plows, and farms less than 160 acres.

The initial models had a four-cylinder engine mounted on the right side of the tractor, and a radiator on the opposite side, making for a boxy appearance even as the tractor balanced on its single tread. The initial Track-Pull was the 6-10 model (6 hp pulling, 10 hp on the tread), but the company eventually made models ranging from 10 horsepower to 32 horsepower. Regardless of the strangeness of a single-footed caterpillar tractor, Bean Spray sold these tractors through at least 1921, showing that crazy ideas could still be profitable.

Can't Take the Tractor Out of the Tractor Designer

McCollough, Johnson, and Calkins each took their own path after the Bean Spray purchase.

Fred Calkins apparently took the quiet way out, appearing as an orchardist in Sunnyvale from 1919 on; the 1920 census shows him as a fruit buyer, living with his sister and brother in law on Murphy Ave. By 1940, Calkins was President of the Santa Clara Valley Fruit Exchange, and living on Alta Vista Way in San Jose's eastern foothills (as if there were ever a better address for a startup guy.)

McCollough and Johnson both joined Bean Spray, and each took a different path with the big company.

Johnson continued, now with the title "mechanical engineer" at Bean Spray and later Anderson-Barngrover through at least 1926. In 1945, patents with his name on them were still being filed by Food Machinery Corporation.

Although McCollough was working for Bean Spray Pump Company in 1918 when he registered for the World War I draft, he was a bit... detached... from his job in Big Tech. He listed his occupation as "fruit ranch proprietor, also promotor and head of Tractor Repair, Bean Spray Pump Co." He was also still living with his mother at 57 South 19th Street, on the unfashionable side of Coyote Creek.

By 1919, McCollough cut out of the big company, listing himself as a "machinery promoter" on his 1919 passport application and "promoter, traction engine" in the 1930 census. City directories from 1922-1925 show McCollough continued working on tractor designs out of an office in the First National Bank building. Soon after, he switched to real estate.

The tractor bug bit both men again; in 1935, McCollough and Johnson again pushed a new design called the "Unitrack". The new tractor had a family resemblance to the Track-Pull, but with a solid body that suspiciously resembles a Jawa Sandcrawler from Star Wars. Its small size and low price certainly would have been handy in those post-Depression days. The new tractor shows up in ads in the Santa Cruz Evening News in May of 1938:

Farmers Attention: Before you buy any small tractor on which you can ride, investigate the new Unitrack tractor, the most complete track laying tractor of its kind. Very economical in operation. Price $495.00 plus tax. Demonstration given. Kroneder & Son sole agent, Glen Canyon, CA. [near Santa Cruz]

By April 1942, when McCollough registered for the World War II draft, he was living in Santa Cruz while working for the Irving Lee & Co. investment company back in San Jose. Johnson, always looking for interesting things to design, was in Long Beach, designing and building airplanes, but continued consulting and designing for FMC, Bean Spray's successor. "Alf" Johnson died with his boots on; he died in 1954 while field-testing a new tractor in Sunnyvale.

Five designs, three designs purchased by large companies, one fire sale, and one bankruptcy. Not bad for a set of crazy Silicon Valley tractor entrepreneurs.

Next time:3d-Printing a Bean Spray Pump Track-Pull.


Photo of Track-Pulls on a rampage on Santa Clara Street comes from History San Jose, and dates to around 1917. Thanks to the many tractor enthusiasts who have written about the Track-Pulls over the years, especially September 1985 Gas Engine Magazine. Bill's Page supplied much of the history of Johnson, McCollough, and Calkins's tractor startups.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wrights Bridge 2: 3d Printing All The Details

The crossing of Los Gatos Creek at Wrights was always an odd scene. I really loved how the scenes on either side had turned out; the area around the Wrights station had the right look of California hills and trees hanging over the tracks. The area around the summit tunnel also gave the right look of diving into a dark redwood forest.

But the bridge scene - well, it just looked like mediocre work. The bridge didn’t look prototypical; it neither looked like the actual SP bridges along the route, and to be honest didn’t look particularly realistic for any railroad. The stream scene had never been completely landscaped and still showed bare spots and unrealistic slopes. It was also missing water in the stream bed, details on the bridge and in the surrounding area.

Now, some of this could be fixed; I’d done decent scenery elsewhere, and had my methods figured out. I’d use a gray-brown paint for the dirt color, sprinkle over sifted and sanitized dirt from our garden (“downstream from Los Gatos canyon, so really prototypical!”). I used yellow ground foam and static grass for the grassy areas, and a mix of Woodland scenics foliage and Supertrees for the larger trees. For water, I’d use the remainder of a jar of the Woodland Scenics decoupage stuff. Details also weren’t hard - just a matter of looking at photos and figuring out some debris to put here and there.

I’d have a harder time matching the prototype details. Prototype photos of the actual bridge, as well as other bridges through Los Gatos Canyon, always had a very specific Southern Pacific look. The piers were cast concrete, with rounded edges and gently angled sides. Bridges often had walkways hanging off each side with outriggers and cross-bracing from dumping pedestrians into the creek if they leaned too hard against the railings. Bridges often had very obvious concrete abutments.

None of these details were things I could buy - the standard SP look just didn’t match the store bought pieces. I could buy piers, but they’re not going to exactly match the SP shape. The handrails on the bridge are not available for love or money, and would need to be scratchbuilt. The bridge abutments? At least those would be easy to scratchbuild from some styrene with a bit of work.

3d printing to the rescue

The 3d printer sitting there in the corner seemed like the perfect item to solve some of these problems; the piers, abutments, and bridge details all came out of the 3d printer.

Drawing the pier using SketchUp's "Follow Me" tool. I drew the oval base and a single cross-section of the pier, then dragged the cross-section around the oval.

The Piers

I started off with the piers because the SP’s booklet on the bridge showed the exact plans. The cast piers were 15’ 2” wide at the top and 5’ thick. There was a 4” lip at the top of the pier. A 1 in 24 slope on all faces made the pier 16’ 3” wide and 6’ 9” thick at the bottom. The pier’s curve on each side had a 2’ 10” radius, with 8’ 6” spacing between the two half-circles.

With all these measurements, making a 3d model of the pier took only around 30 minutes. Sketchup has a feature called “Follow Me” where you can select a cross section, and move that cross section along a line in another plane. Sketchup automatically creates a shape using that profile. For the pier, I drew the oval (for the top of the model), then drew a cross section of the base - hollow to use less material with printing. With “Follow Me”, I had a rough pier done. The pier printed from the top to the bottom. I tweaked the design to get the wall thickness right, but soon had two piers ready to paint and install.

I could have added form impressions on the design, but decided against it - I assumed I could fake some with paint when the model was done.

The Abutments

The abutments came next. I needed the abutment to serve two purposes: they needed to mark the limits of the roadbed, but they also needed depressions to hold the 4x12 beams that sat atop the trestle bents on either end of the bridge. I could have done these in styrene sheet, layering multiple pieces to get the shape I needed, but once I had the 3d printer running, sketching out a quick design and sending it to the printer was quick.

The Wrights bridge has wooden trestle bents leading to the steel truss bridge in the center. I made these from scale 12 x 12 wood; I’d done this kind of work before, and didn’t mind switching to stripwood and white glue for the project. My big surprise was that getting these short trestle bents right was a bit of a challenge.

In the past, I’d sort of eyeballed how quickly the trestle bents spread out; this time, with the drawings from the “Southern Pacific Lines Common Standard Plans” (published by Steam Age Equipment Company a few years back), I knew the precise arrangement - piles on 2’ 4” centers, 12x12 cap, and three 8x18 stringers under each rail. I also knew the piles sloped out at 1 in 12 and 3 in 12.

My first couple attempts to do these by hand failed miserably -I couldn’t get the slopes quite right, and the short pieces were hard to cut and fit. I finally 3d printed a template to help me cut the pieces to length and hold them in place while gluing, and ended up with decent parts.

Handrails installed

The Walkways

Finally, I moved on to the walkways. The bridge itself was a Micro Engineering plastic model; Micro Engineering’s bridge track had appropriately long ties for the trestle and girder sections of the bridge. Getting those handrails and walkways on the bridge, though, didn’t have an obvious solution. The ties weren’t long enough to hold a walkway at the correct length. The individual posts, with cross-bracing sticking out from the bridge and in both directions along the bridge, were complex and tiny shapes that would have been tough to scratchbuild, especially because they had bits sticking in all directions - they weren’t just something that could be assembled flat on the workbench. Because these parts stuck out from the ties, there also wasn’t any good way to glue them onto the plastic ties. Worst of all, building the handrails out of stripwood seemed awfully fragile for an operating layout; I didn’t want to do hours of handwork only to have me break them off while track cleaning.

The 3d printer again called out to be used. For the problems of attaching the walkways and handrail, I realized a 3d part could both stick between the ties, and have a gluing surface to attach to the outside of the ties. The 3d printer could handle the multiple supports (as long as I oriented the parts right.) I could add the walkways and handrails as separate pieces, and add notches for the stripwood to align with the part.

Handrail part. Large projection fits between ties in bridge tie flex track.

Again, an hour of sketching gave me a simple part that worked. I printed a couple dozen of the supports, then sanded each to fit between the ties, superglued them in place, and the next day attached the walkway boards and handrails. Apart from some fiddling to get the supports attached (because of different tie spacing), assembly went quick and easily.

The Conclusions Rebuilding the bridge at Wrights started off as a straightforward process - redo some scenery based on some new facts I'd learned as part of research. Although I've used 3d printing for many projects, I was surprised how going to the 3d printer was my first choice for the piers, walkways, abutments, and pier template. If I'd been sending my parts out for manufacturing at Shapeways, I can't imagine asking for so many parts. But with the 3d printer already on my desk, the 3d printer becomes the tool of choice.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Movie Night XXV: Wrights Bridge

While we're talking about the new bridge at Wrights, let's check out some video of trains rolling through the new scene!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Replacing the Wrights Bridge: Part I

Sixth Crossing, Los Gatos Creek

I love research because it convinces me to throw away perfectly serviceable parts of my layout.

Wrights, located at the top of Los Gatos Canyon, is a key scene for my model railroad. It has a photogenic location at the top of Los Gatos Canyon, with the tracks suddenly jumping across the canyon to dive into a tunnel. Photogenic structures - the old general store, tiny station, and abandoned warehouses - fill the scene. A siding, originally intended to go to the Sunset Park picnic grounds in the 1890’s, provides a way to hide a reverse loop at the top of the layout.

Original scene

The Wrights scene is also one of the earliest bits of scenery on my layout. During the first nine months of building, I focused on getting track laid all the way to my upper level so I could confirm that I knew how to build my two-level benchwork. Once the track was in, I decided I ought to do the messy scenery on the top level first; I’d hate to dump plaster on a good-looking scene below.

The resulting scenery was a mix of good and bad. I matched the rough terrain of the location deep in the canyon, and captured the look of both the redwood-covered hills above the tunnel and the creek deep in the canyon. I reproduced the wooden trestle from narrow-gauge era photos. I also made the model a bit "more interesting" with trestle bents that weren’t perpendicular to the rails, and a split-level concrete foundation matching an odd trestle bent I’d seen on Jack Burgess’s Yosemite Valley railroad. I also rushed construction of supports for the road bridge just upstream of the railroad trestle, plopping down plaster onto the hillside and shaping it to look like a massive concrete block supporting each bridge end.

Of course, then I started reading more about the actual location. Later photos showed a different bridge - a wooden truss bridge - in place of the trestle across the creek. I found some maps hinting that the road from the new Wrights station, on the other side of the creek, dipped under the bridge to make it to the road bridge and the road up-canyon to farms in Austrian Gulch and beyond. Adding that road was one of the few improvements to the scenes since 2006.

Then, last year, while searching up at the California State Railroad Museum, I found a little stapled set of blueprints, set up like Powerpoint slides. (I wrote a bit about those blueprints and maps I found back in August.) I’ve been claiming (without proof) that the booklet must have been the work of some summer intern in the engineering department. That intern had remarkably good lettering skills...

That booklet showed pictures and drawings of the actual bridge… which didn’t look anything like the actual bridge I’d made. Now, that’s not uncommon; I’ve found plenty of scenes on my model railroad that turned out not to match reality. In some cases, I ignore the mistake. Perhaps I needed to swap two scenes to fit my garage, or perhaps I believed the difference wasn’t noticeable. In other cases, I'm annoyed by the difference - but not so annoyed by the mistake that I’d do something about it.

And in some cases, I get annoyed enough to rip out completed, decent scenery, just to match details that the summer intern sketched out a hundred years ago, and stapled in a cool little booklet.

The Prototype

For the railroad, the bridge at Wrights was the “sixth crossing of Los Gatos Creek”. Los Gatos Canyon was an awfully narrow place to survey a railroad, and the railroad reached the headwaters by bouncing from bank to bank to keep grading costs low. Two of the bridges were just above downtown Los Gatos in the narrows at Lexington Reservoir. The third was near Alma. The fourth was near Aldercroft Heights. The final two crossings - just below Wrights, and just above Wrights - were the fifth and sixth crossings.

The South Pacific Coast Railroad laid all that track back in the 1870’s in their attempt to break the SP monopoly and get access to the lumber traffic from the Santa Cruz mountains. The SPC was narrow gauge - smaller trains and bridges kept the fledgling railroad’s costs low. Their original bridges met their “cheap” image, with most bridges being trestles with piles driven into the unstable soil holding them up.

The sixth crossing of Los Gatos creek, up by Wrights, was originally a trestle built on pilings by the South Pacific Coast. The tracks, on the east side of the canyon, suddenly made a right turn, cut across the creek and rolled across a filled-in gulch before diving into the mile-long summit tunnel. Photos from the 1880’s and 1890’s show a trestle that looks like it would have caught ever bit of debris rolling down the creek in the winter storms.

The SP leased the line in 1887, planning to make the line into a solid, first class railroad… eventually. When the plans to standard gauge the line started in earnest in the early 20th century, the SP widened the route and put in some slightly more solid bridges. SP finished dual-gauging the tracks to Wrights by 1903. The Wrights bridge, according to the intern’s slide deck, was replaced in the same year with a straining truss wooden bridge, built just as the tracks up to Wrights were being standard gauged. The intern described it as:

Old Structure. 80 ft. Straining Beam Deck Span on frame piers, with concrete footings with trestle approaches. Designed for narrow gauge track and equipment. Constructed 1903.
The plans to complete the standard-gauging of the line from Los Gatos to Santa Cruz got interrupted on April 18, 1906 as the Great San Francisco Earthquake hit the region. Landslides buried the track on both sides of the mountain, and the summit tunnel at Wrights was cut in the middle.

After the earthquake, the Southern Pacific spent three frantic years rebuilding the Santa Cruz branch. In Wrights, the railroad cleared and widened the summit tunnel, moved the station across the creek, and standard gauged the line. They didn’t replace the bridge, though, leaving the 1903 improved crossing in place.

And then we come to the project described by the intern. In 1915, the SP finally got around to improving both the 5th and 6th crossings of Los Gatos Creek. It wasn’t quite a new bridge; the intern noted that the new bridge was “Second Hand 50 ft Deck Plate Girder from the Santa Clara River (Montalvo Bridge). (Our 1915-vintage Sixth Crossing bridge was very lucky to get replaced and yanked out of Southern California. The bridge that superseded it was washed out to sea when the St. Francis Dam burst in 1928. Cue obligatory music.) The old wooden piers disappeared, replaced by a pair of concrete piers placed on the existing concrete foundations. Even if the bridge wasn’t local, the concrete was; gravel for the new piers came from Campbell, and the cement came from Davenport.

Road crossing under the bridge

The SP spent $6,556.98 on that new bridge: $3500 in labor and the rest on material, spreading the work over fourteen months from November 1914 to February 1916. The intern even broke down the costs - $1500 for the piers, $600 for the pilings for the trestle approaches, $700 to install the new steel bridge, $700 for the trestle approaches themselves, and $200 for ties and guardrails for the bridge. They also accounted for the corporate expenses - $500 for falsework, $300 for use of the work train, $600 for rental of equipment, and $180 to haul the materials up to Wrights.

Now, I just needed to figure out how to build that bridge to match the intern's drawings.

Coming up next time, I'll talk a bit about how I built the scene, and how many of the key parts of the scene were actually 3d printed.


Excerpts from blueprints were taken from "Sixth crossing of Los Gatos Creek Near Wrights", a booklet created by the Southern Pacific Coast Division engineering department to describe the project. Original in the California State Railroad Museum library, Sacramento.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Bureaucratic Railroaders, Paperwork, and Car Locations

Most of us are interested in railroads because of the glamour - gleaming passenger trains running crossing the continent, crews performing dangerous work in good weather and bad, and heroic engineers keeping their train right on the schedule’s times.

Talk to real railroaders, and you’re likely to hear a different message. You’ll hear about all the jobs we don’t model on the railroad. Car clerks typing out waybills. Station agents keeping precise records of the petty cash box. Salesmen taking shippers out for a two martini lunch. Most of all, you'll hear about the bureaucracy needed for a large, distributed company in the days before e-mail. The real railroad was all paperwork, processes to be followed to the letter, and multi-day delays for the simplest of questions.

My glamorous illusions of the railroad got dashed a couple months ago. I’m still looking for information on those Hart gondolas, you see, and a couple Google searches pointed out that the University of Texas, El Paso had a bunch of records from the Southern Pacific’s El Paso shops. Now, I’m unlikely to make it out to El Paso to look at the files in person any time soon, but I’m willing to spend a little bit of cash just in case the records are interesting. I sent the Special Collections librarian a note asking about getting copies of a couple files, and gave them a maximum amount I was willing to spend on photocopies. It took a little while; the SP records don’t appear to be referenced very often, so the library keeps the boxes of material in off-site storage in a warehouse somewhere. But within a month, I got a thick envelope from U.T. El Paso.

That stack of papers in the envelope had a few interesting finds. One file on reinforcing the Hart gondolas in 1927 gave some details about where the Hart gondolas were used on the SP. More amusingly, that particular file told a lot about SP bureaucracy in the 1920’s.

Guess We Better Ask the Big Boss

Excerpt from SP's Campbell, Calif valuation map showing the station and Sunsweet plant

The first bit of bureaucracy involves big expenses. Railroads, like most capital intensive businesses, are very careful about how they spend money. If you’ve ever seen an official Southern Pacific railroad valuation map indicating the location of tracks, signals, and railroad buildings, you’d see that some of the sidings had “G.M.O. 73914” written next to them on the map. These were “General Manager Orders” (probably - I’ve never found an official definition for the acronym). G.M.Os gave official permission to do the big work of laying track, and the original G.M.O. would probably explain exactly why the track must be built. It turns out the G.M.O.s were for more than track; the U.T. El Paso file contained the order allowing the modification of the cars:

Office of General Superintendent, Motive Power, San Francisco, December 26, 1926
Authority for Expenditure of $9,820.00 is requested for the purpose of Improvements to the property as follows:
Reinforce underframe Hart Con-vertible cars, class W-50-3 Series C.P. 10880 to 10959 incl & 12220 to 12239 incl…
These cars were constructed with trussed intermediate sills without proper bracing, thus permitting the bottom of sill to deflect inwards, also drooping of sides.
It is proposed to reinforce cars by applying two additional cross ties, change present location of two cross ties so that intermediate sills will be properly braces laterally at each pair of side stakes between bolsters, also to apply reinforcing plates to intermediate sills.
Authority: General Manager’s letter file 414-0013-2 of August 27, 1924.
… Cost of reinforcing one car:
Material (including percentages): $95.29
Labor (including percentages $80.51
Dr. A&B Acct #55: $173.80
…


Image of G.M.O. order

The records give us an idea of the process of repairing these cars. We now know that these cars were starting to fail in the 1920’s, and we also know how they’re failing - that the sides would droop and sills would deflect. We know the cost - it was worth spending $10,000 to fix a few hundred cars. We know that George McCormick, the superintendent for motive power, was responsible for deciding when to repair freight cars. We know the decision wasn’t a minor one; the railroad's general manager, J. H. Dyer, had to sign off on the purchase because the repairs would cost more than $100 per car. We know the problem had been lingering for a long time - the work had been going on for at least two years, and only only 25 out of 200 cars in this subset had been fixed already. I don’t even want to think of how many meetings McCormick had to sit in arguing whether to do this work or not.

Inter-Office Memo

The second bit of bureaucracy was just the effort of communications, both in the 1920’s and in a physically distributed railroad. In our era of e-mail and iPhones, it’s easy for decisions to be made easily. However the packet of papers had 50 or 60 memos from the El Paso division archives. Some letters asked for updates on progress; the work apparently went slow. On May 4, 1927, the El Paso superintendent sent a response to one of the queries stating that no work had been done on any cars, but they had one car (SP 12281) in the shops for the work. (El Paso was doing better than the Tucson division - A. J. Burke admitted no work had been done on repairing the cars. Like e-mail, memos and letters were often cc'd to relevant people in other divisions, giving the file a view of the Hart repair beyond just El Paso.) Another Hart gondola was loaded with slag and somewhere out on the New Mexico division; Superintendent Irwin ask for the car to be returned ASAP for repair.

By August, budgets must have been getting reworked, for George McCormick in San Francisco asked the divisions to hold off on repairing any more cars on one of the G.M.Os . By September, 46 cars were reported repaired - 16 in Los Angeles, 7 at Bayshore, 14 in Sacramento, 8 at Brooklyn Yard in Portland, 3 in Gerber, and the two in El Paso. I can’t imagine trying to carry on this conversation via a months-long chain of letters, memos, and telegrams. By October 1927, all hundred cars had been repaired, and the GMO was declared complete.

We need to talk about your TPS report covers.

Letter from George McCormick asking about a $15 difference per car in costs billed.

And finally, there was just all the odd little exchanges. A bunch of letters in early 1928 from San Francisco asked R. U. Lipscomb why El Paso spent over expectations on the car repairs.

Auditor of Disbursements advises GMO 71402 now overrun $524 and GMO 71403 overrun $113.00.
The original cost per unit for this work was estimated at $173.80. Los Angeles Shops have verified this figure ample for the 1928 program.
Below is a tabulated list of units in excess of the estimated cost as shown in our records. Please give reason for the increase in cost and state whether this represents cash or second-hand value or if credit adjustment will be arranged. Please give this matter preferred attention.

Ah, nothing more fun than getting e-mails from a manager questioning charges. The El Paso division files includes Lipscomb’s page of math as he figured out the costs to answer his boss, responding ten days later with:

While we have been able to perform work on labor authorized, you will note from the above that the material cost is in excess of amount estimated on Form 30. Set of reinforcements for one car amounted to $100.30. In handling this with the Store Department, they advise this was the cost of one set of reinforcements carried over from 1926 and that the remainder received are invoiced at $85.00”

Even with that bit of information, the questions weren’t ended; two weeks later, McCormick writes back wondering if the Stores cost already includes labor. El Paso responds that the Sacramento Stores apparently double-charged them by including labor costs; L.A. had lower costs because the L.A. accountants were wise to the Sacramento Stores budget tricks. It still took a couple months of mailgrams between A. J. Burke and R. U. Lipscomb in El Paso, Edward Blumenstiel in the El Paso office, and McCormick in the head office before the whole double-charged for $15.00 a car battle ended.

So What Did Those Memos Actually Fix?

Even with all these accounting and responsibility and cover-your-ass memos, there were some nice tidbits for modelers. One of the letters was kind enough to include the L.A. Shops list of parts needed for car repair. (A separate accounting by the El Paso shop superintendent tells us exactly how many bolts and rivets were used on each car. I'm not interested in those because I'm not one of those "rivet counter" model railroaders.)

1.101.33
DescriptionWeightCost
8 Intersill Stiffeners752 lbs @ 2.59 Cwt. $19.48
2 Cross Tie Channels322 lbs. @ 2.60 Cwt. $8.37...
4 Cross Tie Top Plates120 lbs…3.13
8 Intersill Stiffener Fillers42 lbs
4 Stake “U” Bolt Brackets12 lbs0.32
2 Cross Tie Gussets51 lbs
4 Intersill & Cross Tie Connections48 lbs1.25
4 Stake U Bolt Brackets12 lbs0.66
4 Outside Inter Cross Tie Gussets105 lbs0.32
2 Inside Inter-Cross Tie Gussets50 lbs2.74
2 Do 50 lbs1.31
4 Hopper Sill Brackets8 lbs0.21
4 “” “” 5 lbs0.14
4 Hopper Top Plate Supports25 lbs0.65
4 Intersill Reinforcing Places20-130 lbs,3.38
Labor, laying out, shearing, forming and punching…22.65
Labor, apply to car42.16
Shop expense16.10
Use of machinery & tools4.02
Total Labor84.53
Total Cost$141.70

Parts needed for the Hart gondola repairs

And We Also Know Where the Cars Were

So far, all the information I've shared has been pretty dry. The correspondence should be familiar to anyone who's worked at a large company, and it doesn't tell us too much about the models of the W-50-3. The list of parts for strengthening the car might hint at how the W-50-3 class cars changed between construction and later years, although it'll still take a bit of work to understand exactly what changed.

But the file does contain some tidbits that could be very interesting for a model railroader. The letters discussing cars fixed not only documents which shops around the Southern Pacific system performed repairs, but also suggests where the Hart Convertible Gondolas were being used in the 1920's.

41 cars were specifically identified as converted in 1927:

  • 14 at Los Angeles,
  • 6 at Bayshore,
  • 5 in “Southern District” (Los Angeles?)
  • 5 at El Paso,
  • 3 in “Northern District” (Portland? Dunsmuir?)
  • 2 at Tucson,
  • 2 at Sacramento,
  • 2 at Brooklyn (portland),
  • 1 in New Mexico,
  • 1 at Gerber.

These details hint at where those W-50-3s might have been found in the Southern Pacific system. If you model Northern or Southern California, or El Paso, W-50-3 cars should have been visible. If you were in the southwest or Portland, you might see them. If you're in Nevada or Utah, you're out of luck - they're nowhere to be seen. This information doesn't replace photos as evidence for where particular cars or locomotives might have run, but if we're looking for a rough answer about whether the Hart gondolas would have been seen in the Bay Area in the 1920's, this is a good bit of confirmation.

But There's Still More

All this information came only from the first chunk of letters in the files I got from U. T. El Paso. Another 50 pages came from the work to remove home-built snowplows from 7 former El Paso and Southwestern gondolas. The third packet covered GMO 79727, another year's attempt to fix the Hart gondolas.

The last packet had twenty pages documenting the saga of two CS-35A flat cars, SP 79075 and SP 79026. The correspondence was triggered by the cars being used for maintenance-of-way service without officially being charged to the MOW service. By doing so, the SP probably was missing a bit of a tax break by writing off the remaining value of the cars. Every time you letter a car "SPMW", you're actually missing the months of back-and-forth memos needed to throw those cars off the roster of revenue cars.

From George McCormick, back at the head office in San Francisco:

Mr. E. A. Gilbert inspected these cars Jan. 18 at El Paso and found they were assigned to a concrete outfit on the New Mexico Division for sometime past and are permanently fitted suitable for such service, where they should remain. Also it will cost but $5.00 per car to restencil, while cost to return them to revenue service would be approximately $300. each.
Please submit form 30 in the name of Southern Pacific Railroad to convert…”
If you ever dreamed of working on a railroad, I imagine answering telegrams from San Francisco about $10.00 overruns and restenciling cars wasn’t why you wanted to join the railroad. You probably would have had more fun dreaming about being an insurance actuary.

So How Do I Find Records Like These?

Although rare, a few research libraries and archives do have former SP files and drawings in their collections. The files that exist are a tiny fraction of what the railroad kept, but occasionally you can get lucky (like I did here) and find documents relevant for a subject you're either interested in for history research or model building. Generally, find the libraries that might have the correct documents, then look for finding aids which will tell you the actual documents that were saved.

For the SP, common sources are Stanford Library (various records, including freight cars and some land records), California State Railroad Museum, U.C. Berkeley's Bancroft Library, University of Texas El Paso (Rio Grande division), San Francisco Maritime Museum (Southern Pacific ferry records) and California State Railroad Museum. The Online Archive of California website provides a single place to look for relevant collections in many different California libraries.

In each library, you'll be searching for collections - related boxes of records, usually donated together - related to the Southern Pacific. Each collection usually has a "finding aid" - a document that summarizes what records are in a specific collection. In Stanford's finding aid for its Southern Pacific records, you can find exactly which corporate records survived, a list of folders for specific land or track improvement projects, or photos for specific freight cars. With the name of the collection and the identifier for a folder inside that collection, you now can ask the owning library about viewing the material at the library, or, like I did, ask whether they can make a copy of particular materials.


Records from GMO 71402 and GMO 71403 from the Southern Pacific Company (Rio Grande Division) records, MS 077, University of Texas El Paso Special Collections department. Thanks to the librarians who pulled these files out of dusty boxes and photocopied a couple hundred pages of telegrams, mail, and assorted scribblings. Excerpt of Southern Pacific valuation map for Campbell, California excerpted from an original drawing at the California State Railroad Museum Library.