Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Diesels in the Drawer

Although my layout is set in the 1930's, there are occasional inconsistencies. For example, if you look in a drawer under the layout, you'll find a pair of 1950's diesel locomotives on hand. They're still SP, one in the Black Widow paint scene, and the other in the simplified "pumpkin" black and orange scheme. They're important - they're my insurance policy.

One of the big rules in operations is that a layout needs to run well, and that means the locomotives need to run well. No locomotive, no train, no operating session. Worse, an operating session is much more wearing on the trains - hours of running, multiple locomotives running at the same time, rougher operators, less respect for known trouble spots - so even engines that work perfectly for you on your own can fail during an ops session. Having a few spare locomotives on hand becomes necessary when one of the locomotives develops a hitch in its mechanism, or a coupler breaks, or a locomotive stops running completely.

My operating sessions tend to use the same locomotives - a few nice-running Consolidations - that can pull all the needed cars. Some lesser trains run during the operating session use some weaker locomotives that can be commandeered in a pinch, giving up pulling power or sound. The passenger train locomotives can also be useful in case of problems, but my two 4-6-0's tend to derail going backwards which makes them poor choices.

And if all goes completely wrong, then the two diesels get pulled out, and finish the operating session. The show must go on, and the trains must complete so the crew has fun.

Luckily, the diesels hardly ever get pulled out.

Unfortunately, they were needed when I had some neighbors over earlier this week; the layout hadn't run for months and I'd just started on cleanup when they stopped by.

  • Engine one stopped moving as the motor whined. (Pulley started spinning on axle in a painful-to-disassemble Bachmann Spectrum locomotive, annoying to fix.)
  • Second engine was stalling on the dirty track.
  • Third had a bind in the mechanism.
  • Another had electrical contact problems.

Each one got pulled aside and it's replacement took over the train. Finally, no more spare steam locomotives were available; the diesels go pulled out and saved the day.

That's why I'm spending the next couple days on tuning locomotives, including tearing apart the very awkward locomotive to get to the slipping gear. It's time to fix those mechanisms, touch-up paint, and get some new locomotives ready for the layout.

Moral: always have spare locomotives if you're planning on doing operations. And don't forget to hide a pair of diesels in a convenient drawer.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Those Old Buildings Were Young Once Too

Before you read any further, do me a favor and examine the close up pictures of the Market Street warehouses.  Those photos are from 1906, so they're a good twenty-five years before the era I model.  When you look at them, how worn, dirty, or unmaintained do you expect them to be?  How much is your opinion based on photos from the same era, and how much is based on similar buildings you've seen recently?

One of my big challenges modeling an era that I didn't live through is that I don't have a good idea of appropriate weathering for the various buildings.  I remember some of the old warehouses and buildings along the railroad right-of-ways from my childhood in the 1970's, but the condition of SP's warehouses under what's now Pac Bell (er... AT&T) Park probably doesn't hint at what they were like in the 1950's, or in the 1930's.  Photos help a bit, but my own biases mean I'll aim my industrial buildings too worn if I'm not careful.
With the Market Street warehouse, I'm doubly cursed - the buildings I'm modeling on appeared some time between 1915 and 1935, but other warehouses and packing sheds in the area probably date to the turn of the century, or perhaps even to when the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad first visited San Jose in the 1860's.
On top of just deciding on age and era, most of the packing sheds and other buildings used for part of the year don't appear to be well maintained even in good times, as can be seen from these photos of contemporary packing houses in Central California.
I decided to model my warehouse with moderate to severe weathering, trying to capture the look of paint that's wearing away and wood that's darkening.  I tried a technique I've used before to model weathered, bleached wood: distress the styrene, cover with primer or gesso, then use india ink and brown washes to bring out the texture.  Here's a photo of the warehouse so far with the walls painted, but no roof or view block to keep the sky behind the building from poking out - it's not perfect, but it'll do for now.
So how do you determine how worn your buildings should be?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Inside the Packing Houses

The packing house model's taking shape - I'm currently painting the basic model to get the weathered warehouse look.

Meanwhile, it's worth changing the focus from the outside of the packing house and warehouses to the inside.  What happened in a dried fruit packing house?

Luckily, the San Jose Public Library and San Jose State library can tell us.  Here's some photos from the John C. Gordon collection.  All three of these photos appear to be from the same packing house, and the last photo shows that it's a Sunsweet co-op associated plant from the box labels.

First, a photo of the prunes being boxed.  Many of the packing houses were multi-story, and the Sanborn maps note that the fruit bins and grading were done on the upper floors.  This photo shows why - the chutes from the upper floor drop the fruit into the packing machinery where it's all boxed.  Note that the women doing the packing are actually weighing each individual package as prunes are dropped in--automation hasn't gotten rid of the boxing jobs y as she drops prunes into it - automation isn't being used here.

Second, here's another photo of the women packing.  Another chute's visible at the back right of the photo, and this photo shows the simple interior well--wooden posts, exposed rafters, simple lights. Note the metal sash windows at the back; they're a nice touch, and probably catch at least a bit of a breeze so the plant floor isn't so hot.

Finally, here's the end of the production line with the boxes being labelled and packed in crates.

I'm not sure which Sunsweet plant is pictured in the photos.The metal U's between the posts and beams is an easy spotting feature for noting photos taken in the same packing house.  The Arcadia photo book for Campbell borrows one of these photos, but the horizontal, tipping steel sash windows don't match either the photos of the Campbell packing house next to downtown, or the Lincoln Ave. downtown; both had wooden sash windows.  However, the photos do explain all the work that's needed before those boxes of fruit make it into my railroad cars.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Modeling Small-Town California

Tony Thompson's first blog post showed that he's a freight car modeler first - not surprising, considering he's written the definitive books on Southern Pacific freight cars. Meanwhile, I keep showing that I'm a structure modeler first, whether it's with a week of angsting about the design of an old warehouse, a few too many of my childhood plastic freight cars on my layout, or rambling on forever about what a typical small town in California's Central Valley looks like.

Specifically, I had a note from a European model railroader who's interested in modeling the California Northern short line on the west side of the Sacramento Valley around Davis, Vacaville, and north. He was curious about what sort of buildings would be typical. The poor guy unfortunately got an earful of advice from me, and I hope he didn't mind it all. I'll repeat it here because I really like the small towns along the west side like Esparto, or Winters, or Dunnigan, or Orland, and I like reflecting on what really makes those towns memorable and unique.

So for all the other locals: how does this description match what you think is photogenic about the small towns of the Central Valley, and what would be the key details if you were going to model a short line going through some of the little towns on the west side of the Valley?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What's a Composition Roof?

So the Sanborn map keys show that many of the 1950-era roofs were "composition" roofing. I usually think of this as asphalt shingles, but would these have been used on an old warehouse, or would rolled roofing have been more common?

The Forest Service wrote a nice document on Early 20th-Century Building Materials: Siding and Roofing which states that asphalt roofing existed in the 19th century, but really took off in the 1920's to cut the fire risk of wood shingles. Asphalt shingles were popular by World War I because they were easier to transport. Colors for asphalt roofing with embedded aggregate was limited to black, red, and green until the 1930's when ceramic granules of other colors started appearing.

So, it's a toss-up - shingles or rolled roofing? Time to keep researching.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mr. DeMille, I'm Ready for my Close-up!

Here's some nice close-ups from the Library of Congress aerial photo of the San Jose railroad yards in the summer of 1906. I suspect the photographer convinced some of the local businesses to paint their names on the roof so they'd be visible in the photos.

The H.L. Losse packing house at 392 San Pedro St. is a name I hadn't already seen.

Another fun detail: Those look like Santa Fe boxcars in front of J.B. Inderriedden! The three story Rosenberg packing house also is another example of how packing houses aren't always low to the ground and temporary.

Aerial Photo of Market Street Station

Here's one more shot of the warehouses around the Market Street station. This aerial shot was taken in 1906, after the Great San Francisco Earthquake, by G. H. Lawrence. I snagged this copy from the Dome of Foam SP railroad site, but they got it from the Library of Congress. This picture is oriented roughly northeast. Downtown San Jose is to the lower right corner, Santa Clara (and eventually San Francisco) to the left. If you went to the right along the railroad tracks, the tracks would curve south onto Fourth Street then head straight for Los Angeles.

Interesting details:

  • All the buildings have peaked roofs, even the Inderrieden packing house at 236 Ryland that was listed in 1950 as having a parapet on top. Flat roof buildings appear to be a modern convenience still to arrive.
  • The 1915 map shows empty space between 405 N. First (the J.W. Chilton packing house) and 392 N. San Pedro St. I don't know if this is a scale issue, or if buildings were appearing and disappearing so quickly. Chilton's building obviously has a taller east half and shorter west half.
  • The Warren Fruit Packing Co. packing houses is very bright, and looks very likely to be corrugated iron as mentioned on the map.
  • The Farmer's Union warehouse at 395 N. San Pedro Street has the same boxy ventilators that the Souther Pacific Freight Station on the south side of the yard has. I'd be suspicious both were railroad built.
  • The 1901 hand-drawn 3d view at the Dome of Foam is surprisingly accurate in terms of rooflines and ventilators, capturing the odd ventilators of the SP Freight House and the Farmer's Union warehouse. The same ventilators are seen across the street on the building that was the Mark-Lally Plumbing Co. in 1905; was that a former railroad warehouse too?

See anything else interesting?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Table: All My Warehouses

In our last episode, our heroes struggled bravely against the question "So, what are you using for a roof?" That question led to some half-assed guesses, which led to the Sanborn map key, which led to possible roofing materials. But which roofing materials were generally in use in San Jose in 1930, and which roofing materials are appropriate for the generic warehouses our heroes are building.

Needless to say, our heroes did the only correct thing: they gathered up all the data and made a big honking table.

Here's a quick summary of the warehouses north of the tracks around the Market Street station. My schematic map shows where the various warehouses were in relation to the railroad tracks, the Market St. passenger station (disused after 1935), and the San Jose freight station. Note that the row of three warehouses (395 N. First, "395 N. First (back of lot)" (my name for it), and 386 N. San Pedro St) appeared between 1915 and 1950, and on top of the former site of several yard tracks. These warehouses might be the ones I see in the pictures such as the one from 1935 of SP locomotive 3105. I've used these warehouses as my prototype for the latest model.

Obvious details from all this information? Wood shingles were seen in 1915, and metal roofs were common on corrugated buildings, but composition and metal roofs were the norm in the 1950's. Buildings existing in 1915 otherwise didn't change much between 1915 and 1950. Sounds like my best bets are wood shingles or composition roof, and be safe either way I ought to go with composition. Unless, of course, I find a 1930 Sanborn map and learn the actual truth.

(Thanks to Tom Campbell for explaining that a small x in a corner of the building box indicates wood shingle roof; hollow o, metal roof; solid o, composition roof. The only Sanborn key I have must be a bit more modern than that, and doesn't indicate any of those symbols.)

Address1915 Sanborn map1950 Sanborn map
405 N. First St. (east end)J. W. Chilton Fruit Packing. 3 floors, 35' high, composition roof. Firewall between west and east halves of building.C. L. Dick Dried Fruit. 3 floors, 33' high, wood posts on first and second floor, composition roofing., boiler.
405 N. First St. (west end)J. W. Chilton Fruit Packing. 2 story, 24' high. Three rows of wooden posts, truss roof, composition roofing.C. L. Dick Dried Fruit. 1 story, 12' high, only occupies portion of original footprint. Boiler in separate building. (Hmmm.. fire in the past?)
395 N. First St.No building.Fruit packing. 1 floor, 18' high, truss roof, composition roofing.
395 N. First St. (back)No building.Shelling Plant. Same as above.
386 N. San Pedro St.No building.Fruit packing warehouse. Same as above.
392 N. San Pedro St.Mark-Lally Plumbing Warehouse. 1 story, 14' high. Corrugated iron on studding, metal roofing, one row wood posts, no chimney.Fruit packing. 1 story, wood floor, metal roof, patent chimney.
391 San Pedro St.No buildingVegetable packing. 1 story, composition roof.
395 San Pedro St.Farmer's Union Warehouse. 1 story, 16' high, truss roof, wood shingles, no chimney.Warren Dried Fruit in western half of building. Beer warehouse in eastern half. 1 story, 16' high, truss roof, composition roofing.
100/200 Ryland St.Warren Dried Fruit. 2 story, 20' high. Corrugated iron on studding. Wood posts and truss roof, metal roofing.Warren Dried Fruit. Unreadable.
236 Ryland St.J. B. Inderrieden & Co. Dried Fruit Packing. 2 story, 24' high, wood posts on frist floor, wood shingle roof. Receiving and shipping on first floor, grading on second.Abinante and Nola Packing Co. 2 story, 24' high, 2' parapet on top. Composition roofing. Boiler.
280 Ryland St.No buildingWestern Metal and Export tin salvage plant. 1 story, 16' high, wood floor (4' open underneath), truss roof, metal roofing. No chimney.

From the "You Can't Make Stuff Like This Up" department...

I was poring over old Sanborn maps to answer Tom's "what's the roof going to be?" question. I wandered a bit south of my target area and was checking out the Guggenhime packing plant when my eyes saw the warehouse next door at 175 Julian St.

Eggo Food Products Co., Inc. - food product manufacturing.

Yep, Eggo waffles are the San Jose treat.

Who says you don't learn important facts in the model railroading hobby?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Progress on Market St. Station Warehouse

The first of the Market Street warehouses is taking shape. As usual, I'm scratchbuilding the model in styrene. Scratchbuilding basic square buildings is pretty easy, and styrene is fun to work with because I can pretty much build as fast as I can cut, and don't need to worry about painting til after assembly.

Like most of my styrene models, this one's built out of the usual small number of "staple" styrene shapes; I keep a supply of basic styrene for anything I'm building up from scratch, and only buy sheet styrene for siding and Grandt Line windows and doors when I figure out a particular project to make.

My staples for plastic are 12x12" HO (1/8" square) styrene rod for bracing, 2x12 strip for large boards (in this case for the sheathing on the loading dock), 2x6 strip for cross-bracing and railings on the stairway, 4x4 rod for posts for the stairway, 1/16" sheet styrene for the core of the object, and any handy width of scribed siding for large wood floors such as the loading dock and stair platform. I normally don't like the very thin (1" scale) plastic, but I use 1x4 strips and scribed sheet to make the baggage doors from scratch. Other than the staples, this model took a couple packs of board and batten siding (suitably weathered with a brass brush and occasional removed boards), and some Grandt Line doors and windows from a large stash. A while back, I bought the Grandt Line window and door assortment so I'd always have some window and door castings available; I restock the particular pieces I use, but if I'm not picky on a project, I can usually find something in the box to use. I also keep one or two of the Central Valley stair sets on hand so I don't have to fabricate those from scratch.

All the staples make for about $20 in plastic, and I'm good about buying additional plastic whenever I visit the local hobby shop. The only item not in the hobby shop is the 1/16" white styrene sheet, which I buy from Tap Plastics, our local plastics supplier, for around $1.50/square foot. I'll buy a few 1' x 4' sheets for backdrops, and any extra gets borrowed for other projects.

This model represents about three evenings of work at this point - most of the effort was just in deciding what to build, and feeling familiar enough with the various warehouses to be able to guess at dimensions.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It might be easier to list who *wasn't* swallowed up by Sunsweet

After all the comments this week about whether Silicon Valley is getting a little too frothy with the various company buyouts, offers, and alliances, at least we know things weren't like that in the old days, right?

Uh... maybe not.

Sunsweet, also known as the California Prune and Apricot Growers co-operative, was obviously a popular group in the Santa Clara Valley. The co-op provided fruit dryers and packing houses for member farmers, provided marketing support for the brand, and as a result raised the prices that farmers could get for their crop. Several of the packing houses I've modeled in the San Jose area were either Sunsweet facilities or associated with the group. However, this history of Santa Clara County from around 1920 (via shows just how wide the organization's roots ran.

Here's the list of Sunsweet facilities in 1922:

"The California Prune and Apricot Growers, Inc., have organized growers', packing and warehouse associations with plants in Santa Clara County as follows:

  • Plant No. 1, Campbell (building still standing.)
  • No. 2, Morgan Hill;
  • No. 3, Gilroy;
  • No. 4, San Jose, Fourth and Lewis streets (south side of town along the old 4th Street portion of the line to San Jose.)
  • No. 6, San Jose ;
  • No. 7, Vasona, Los Gatos ; (hmmm... wonder where this was?)
  • No. 8, Mountain View ;
  • No. 10, San Jose ;
  • No. 11, San lose, Cinnebar and Senter streets; (Rose Garden neighborhood. The railroad tracks go down what used to be Senter Ave. )
  • No. 13, Los Gatos;
  • No. 14, Lincoln Avenue, San Jose. (north of Parkmoor Ave., no longer standing.)

"They also have plants in various sections of the state, and the list extended to forty in 1921. The following packers of the county are affiliated with the association:

  • Plant No. 14, W. Chilton & Co., San Jose (don't know if that's the warehouse on Ryland I'm modeling)
  • No. 15, J. B. Inderrieden Co., San Jose; (another name we've seen on the warehouses near the Market St. Station)
  • No. 16, Pacific Fruit Products Co., San Jose; (perhaps what became Abinante and Nola in the 1930's on San Carlos St. next to the Los Gatos branch)
  • No. 17, Warren Dried Fruit Co., San Jose; (another name on the warehouses near the Market Street Station
  • No. 22, Geo. E. Hyde & Co., Campbell; (on my Vasona Branch layout, buildings still existing)
  • No. 37, Warren E. Hyde, S. E. Johnson, Cupertino;
  • No. 38, West Side Fruit Growers' Association, Cupertino.

"In addition to the above, there will be established at numerous points in the state receiving stations. Growers' Packing and Warehousing Association, Inc., has already negotiated the purchase of several properties necessary for these plants. "

None of these plants were particularly tiny, and they were scattered all across the Santa Clara Valley. For a model railroader, a huge number of medium-sized industries is heaven because it means I'll have lots of switching locations for the local freight trains. This Sanborn map (showing the Lincoln Ave. Plant #14) shows a small building, but photos show it as a three story high barn-like structure with a huge facade on Lincoln Ave.

Don't think for a moment that the crazy dot-com boom was a one time occurrence in Silicon Valley. The various alliances, conglomerates, and mergers in the fruit canning and packing businesses in the teens and twenties seem very familiar.

A dried fruit packer such as Sunsweet may not seem like they've got much to do other than get the dried fruit from the farmers. However, check out their guidelines to the member fruit dryers to see what's needed so that the dried California apricots you buy at the store are high quality.