Saturday, August 20, 2011

Campbell: Current Progress

The new track in Campbell is in. I'm not feeling very definite about it, though - the new Shinohara switches I got for the new trackwork seem to stick a bit and hold their position til the Tortoise switch machine's almost at its end position. That's going to be a likely source of shorts when I finally power the frogs.

I also had a bunch of problems because both locations of new track are on top of scenery (sculptamold over styrafoam), not over real benchwork. The existing ground wasn't level, so I scraped, carved, and eventually yanked out bits of the scenery to make sure I had a smooth base for the track. Both sidings (like all of Campbell) are on a bit of a slope and the freight cars want to roll away. While some brightly-colored block erasers can stand in for brakes on the freight cars, I suspect I need to play around with the height of the layout to cut the slope on the Campbell side.

But the track's in, and it looks like it'll make Campbell a more interesting place to switch. The team track will allow more regular freight cars to be dropped in Campbell, and the extra two or three spots at the Hyde Cannery and Sunsweet packing plant ought to make the Campbell cannery job a lot busier, especially when some cars need to be left behind. The water tank is now getting squeezed out of the scene; I'd intended for the team track to be a little further away from the cannery, but ran out of flex track and positioned the team track switch so I'd waste less track. I'll also need a railroad tool shed between the team track and the station.

Still to be done on this scene: beyond just finishing the canneries, there's lots of interesting detail on the station side. The Campbell station, like San Jose's Market Street station, had a small garden with palm trees and grass between the station and Campbell Ave. Railroad Ave. should be between the station and edge of the layout; the SP valuation map shows the SP's property only extended fifty feet from the tracks. The team track should be set in pavement. If I'm really clever, I'll embed the rails from the Peninsular Railway, the Santa Clara Valley interurban, into the pavement. The interurban stopped running in the early 1930's, but signs of its existence ought to be visible.

Next bit of work: the Sunsweet dried fruit packing house, which is the largest (3 story) building next to the tracks in the photo.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movie Night!

Because I'm starting to build the Sunsweet packing house in Campbell, it seems very appropriate to show the movie "A Fortune in Two Trunks", Sunsweet's documentary from 1951 about the origin of prunes in California as well as a detailed explanation of how prunes are processed.

If you, like I, always wondered about the oil tank and boiler near each packing house, you'll learn here how hot water and steam are used several times on the dried prunes for cleaning, re-hydrating, and easing packaging. If you're at all interested in the packing industries, watch the whole thing!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Tweaking the Campbell Track Plan

Scenery building is moving west; after the work at Vasona Junction, the next target is beautiful Campbell, California. Although I've built some of the buildings for Campbell Avenue, the two major canneries in town are still cardboard mockups. That's a shame, as Campbell is one of the more active locations on the layout thanks to the multiple industries and handy passing siding. My crews deserve something nicer to look at.

Campbell doesn't always live up to my expectations, though. Campbell had three or four major canning and fruit packing industries along the tracks, and the simple track arrangements let crews finish too quickly. Although the town could support a team track, I never saw one on the Sanborn maps of town, so I ask crews to spot cars on the station track… which blocks the passing siding and causes all sorts of crises when too many trains try to move on the layout at the same time.

I'd had thoughts about adding extra tracks around Campbell to increase the amount of work at the station, but those ideas never got anywhere. After seeing the SP Valuation Map for Campbell, I found there really was a team track in town. That's one of the few omissions I've found on the Sanborn maps. The team track was certainly visible on 1960's era switching diagrams for the SP crews, but that era had the team track pointing in the opposite direction! The valuation map doesn't say when the team track went in, but comparing the numbers for the GMO (general manager orders) for the team track and other track changes on the map with dates suggests the team track went in around 1924 or so, and was lengthened to 320 feet by the 1930's.

Wow - I can put in that team track! Once I was thinking about trackage changes, I also started thinking about lengthening the sidings and perhaps adding the California Prune and Apricot Growers (aka Sunsweet) plant into the scene as well. I wanted an extra siding, but I wanted the track to still match the prototype - how was I going to do it?

Here's a rough schematic of the track in Campbell around the 1930's (as far as I can figure). This is based off the Sanborn and SP valuation maps. Up is west; right heads towards San Jose and left heads towards Los Gatos. Campbell Avenue cuts across the tracks in the center of the drawing. Sunsweet's siding was small - maybe four cars - but the Hyde cannery had multiple warehouses and multiple doors for spotting. The Ainsley/Drew cannery (it was sold to Drew at the end of 1932) had two sidings, the left one for the main cannery building, and the right for access to additional warehouses. Ainsley also owned the warehouse on the other side of the tracks according to the valuation map, but the Sanborn maps just list it as a "box factory." Occasionally, I'll treat the box factory like a long-term warehouse, and direct boxcars there to pick up cans of fruit.

Here's the plan as it appears on my layout today. Note that Ainsley only gets one siding, not two, but the box factory still appears. Also note that Sunsweet is completely missing, as is the team track. Now the Hyde Cannery end of the siding is only three cars, so there's really not room for an extra siding (or even spaces for Sunsweet.) Lengthening the town is also impossible as both sides of town end in sharp curves that lead into the rural, in-between scenes. So what can I do to make more room for the canneries and Sunsweet packing house?

Here's the current plan, and I just started yanking up track to make this happen. I'm planning on moving the Hyde Cannery buildings another two feet to the left, and putting them on their own spur. Sunsweet will get the former three spaces taken by Hyde, giving me room to display their large tin-sheathed frame building. To avoid extending the town, the Hyde Cannery will be on its own spur; crews won't be able to switch Hyde from either end of town, but the other two industries can be worked either from the uphill or downhill side.

It's not a perfect track plan, but I'm satisfied it'll capture some of the feel of the original track arrangement, but still provide fun operation.

My first step is to rip out the old track, put in the needed switches, and lay the track. In the next few months, I'll be building the Hyde and Sunsweet packing houses, and then I'll be able to start putting in some reasonable scenery all around. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Breakin' the Rules

One of our first lessons in Model Railroad Kindergarten is usually "make sure you can maintain it." Make sure hidden track is accessible, don't glue coupler boxes together, and use terminal strips so you can easily test and replace wiring on the layout.

When I was a teenager, I followed the wiring rule pretty religiously. Because I was having fun experimenting with electronics, I think I ended up spending more of my hobby budget on terminal strips at Radio Shack than on model railroad supplies. When I started the Vasona Branch, I knew I needed to do something different, both to avoid the long runs of wire to reach those terminal strips and avoid the cost of making things maintainable.

Many model railroaders suggest running DCC wiring with a pair of heavy (12-14 gauge) bus wires near the tracks, then running smaller wires from the buses to the rail. Sandwich connectors ("insulation displacement connectors") make the connections to the bus easy, requiring only crimping with a pair of channel lock pliers. Occasionally (once a year) a connector might fail; wiggling a wire or re-crimping solves the problem quickly, and it's usually easy to diagnose the problem.

The sandwich connectors worked very well on the DCC wiring - there was less wire under the layout, and wiring everything up went quickly. When I gave up on hand-thrown switches and converted to Tortoise switch machines, I'd gotten used to the idea of not having terminal strips around the layout. I also realized I didn't want to do lots of soldering under the layout, so I started doing more of the work at the workbench.

Here's a photo of a typical switch machine being prepared for installation. The Tortoise sits under the layout near the switch; the toggle switch is inset into a plastic pipe end cap that is placed flush on the layout fascia so the switch can't be bumped. All the wiring from the switch machine to the switch and the wires to the supply are soldered at the workbench. I solder the "x" needed for a reversing DPDT switch by stripping the end of a wire, then using the strippers to pull insulation from another point a couple inches down. The tip of the wire gets soldered to one terminal, and the gap further in goes to the terminal that's on the opposite side of the switch.

While at the workbench, I also open the Tortoise up and grind away some of the copper for the contacts powering the frog; all my switches are Shinohara, and the points don't always move fast enough to break away from the supply rail. With the as-bought contacts, I'll sometimes get shorts depending on how the switch machine's linked to the points.

When I'm ready to install the switch, I drill the holes to mount the switch machine, bore the hole for the plastic pipe end cap using an adjustable spade bit, secure everything in place, then use sandwich connectors to connect the toggle switch to the switch machine bus power. The extra yellow, black, and red wires are for frog power; the yellow wire goes to the frog, and the black and red go to the DCC bus. I'll usually figure out which wire goes where by using alligator clips to temporarily power the frogs from nearby rails, then figure out which bus wire corresponded to which rail.

(One helpful hint for wiring: with DCC and sound, leave the layout on as you wire up new sections. If all your locomotives go quiet, then you've miswired something.)

With all this screwed into place, maintenance might seem to be a problem, but I've found there's enough slack to unscrew the switch machine and check out problems under the workbench. For serious problems, I can cut wires, check everything at the bench, and re-crimp the wires in place afterwards. I'll have to mess with a switch machine on the layout a few times a year, and so far this hasn't been too onerous. I do make sure there's enough slack wire in the line to get the switch machine out.

All this might not be the *right* way to wire a layout, but for a smaller layout like mine, it's worked just fine.

And if you're curious why I'm messing with switch machines and switches: this switch machine's going to be used for a new team track at Campbell. That's a story for another day.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tolerance for Error II: Getting More Data Points

One of my problems (and I suspect one of the problems real historians face) is that sometimes there's just not enough data. You might have a picture of this street corner in 1915, but what was it like in 1920? In 1930? In 1940? What about on the day after the photo was taken?

I already hit this problem trying to understand how the SP used the track between San Jose and Los Gatos during the 1930's. Even in that ten year stretch, things changed quite a bit in where SP personnel worked, which tracks were controlled by the chief dispatcher, and where signals were located.

So when I was looking at the packing houses around San Jose's Market Street station, I had only a few data points to use.

* Sanborn maps in UMI's collection told me the businesses in the different buildings in 1915 and 1950.
* The Southern Pacific valuation map copy I got from the California State Railroad Museum shows the owners in 1930 or so.
* I'd seen city directories from 1936 which gave me another data point. That's not a lot of data points - maybe one every twenty years.

Luckily beefed up their city directories since I first used their data. They now have Polk's San Jose city directory for most years between 1936 and 1952, a 1964 Santa Clara telephone directory, and a 1972 telephone directory. Polk's directories are particularly useful for us model railroaders because they also have entries sorted by street address, so it's easy to see which companies were in warehouses along your favorite road. Similar directories are available elsewhere; San Jose Public Library has scans of directories from around 1900-1915 on-line, and have paper copies for many more years in the California Room at the main downtown library.

So how quickly did the various businesses move around? First, let's check out Ryland Street, just north of the Market Street station and home to a bunch of packing houses.

100 Ryland Street held the Farmers' Union warehouse - that was a popular general store in San Jose. Tom McEnerney's family ran this - he was a former mayor of San Jose and helped develop the San Pedro Square restaurant neighborhood near the Farmers Union retail buildings. The building was occupied by Warren Dried Fruit Co. in 1936, 1940, 1945, and 1950. I don't know much about Warren, but there's enough tidbits on the web to suggest they'd been around for a long time. Family stories say my grandmother worked for them in Hayward as a bookkeeper, but I haven't found much detail on them there.

200 Ryland Street was occupied by J.B. Inderrieden dried fruit packing in 1915; they were a Chicago-based grocery wholesaler and fruit packer. Teresi Brothers were there in 1930 according to the valuation map. Winchester Dried Fruit was there in 1940; lawsuit details in 1936 say it was owned by Antonio Teresi and Bert Kirk. Jr. That's an impressive pair of owners; Teresi's father owned the huge Sorosis Fruit Ranch near Saratoga, and Bert Kirk was part of the family that owned the large Kirk Ranch near Willow Glen. Both would have had plenty of fruit to sell. Our house is on what used to be their land. In 1945 and 1950, Abinante and Nola was in the building; they were also in a packing house that's on my layout, but I'll talk more about that in a moment. They occupied the building from at least 1944 according to a building permit for foundation work.

392 San Pedro Street near the SP freight house had been occupied by the Mark-Lally Plumbing Warehouse on the 1915 map, but was occupied by G. B. Musante fruit buyer in 1936, 1940, 1945, and 1949. I've found no details on him.

395a North First Street, or my Earl Fruit Company packing house I built, was occupied by Earl Fruit Co. in 1936 and 1938, but was occupied by Heggblade and Marguleas Co "fruit buyers" in 1940. I didn't check to see if Earl Fruit Company had moved to a different building, or if they were starting to fade away.

After my visit to the Modesto and Empire Traction Company last month, I did learn that the kinds of warehouses that businesses expect over time changes; many of their 1950's era warehouses are uninteresting to potential renters because the ceilings are "only" 24 feet high. Modern warehousemen want 35' ceilings in the warehouse for easier material handling. I could imagine Earl Fruit moving to a more modern structure for just such a reason. Time to search the directories to see if they moved.

361 North Fourth Street, the Richmond Chase cannery located where the SP line curved down onto Fourth Street, is another cannery I model on my Market Street shelf layout. The 1915 Sanborn map lists it as "Golden Gate Packing Co.", but the 1950 map showed "Richmond Chase". I'd chosen Richmond Chase for my 1930's cannery. So how good a guess did I make? Bad. Hunts occupied the building in 1936 and 1940, and Richmond Chase's Plant #14 occupied it only in 1945. If I'm good, I'll re-label that building as Hunts.

And finally, how about that packing house off San Carlos Street that I've labelled as Abinante and Nola? It's again inappropriate. The 1936, 1949. , and 1945 directories shows it was "J. S. Roberts dried fruit", and it only became Abinante and Nola in 1949. I've definitely messed up on the name there by twenty years.

So that's it - for the buildings that weren't well-known (Earl Fruit, Abinante and Nola, Richmond Chase), by relying on maps 20 years out of date, I was wrong about the owners during the time of my layouts (early 1930's). Not a great score there.

So how picky should I be - does the name on the building count as artistic license? Should I be able to use names that weren't on the same building, or weren't on the building for twenty more years? I'm still trying to decide that.

On the other hand, even with the bad names, I've got a model railroad that's still a lot of fun to run. Spending a few extra years armchair-modeling would not have been worth the extra bits of knowledge I've gained since I first started the layout.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tolerance for Error

It's pretty clear if you skim my past articles that I'm interested in the historical aspects of model railroading. I've searched high and wide for photos and maps of the old town site at Alma. I've carefully searched old city directories to learn which fruit packer was in which building near the old Market Street station. I've also built detailed models of specific buildings I've constructed. With all that effort, I must have done enough research to know I'm making the correct choices, right?


Now, that's part of the fun of model railroading. The research is fun, but I'm using the history and facts I learn to help me figure out the projects to build and try to capture some bit of realism on the model railroad. I don't need things perfect; if I construct a building slightly wrong, or use a business name that was actually a block over, I probably still am building scenes that are more evocative of San Jose than if I didn't do the research at all.

The only problem is that sometimes I find those little facts which convince me I got things a bit wrong.

While I was up at the National Model Railroad Association's convention in Sacramento last month, I attended a talk by the librarian at the California State Railroad Museum about using their library, and then got a chance to see the library and search their card catalog. CSRM has a huge collection of rare documents - old photos, books, freight car plans, maps, and blueprints. For Southern Pacific modelers, the collection of blueprints and valuation maps are particularly fascinating. The valuation maps show the railroad's right-of-way and how they'd gotten legal title for stretches of land and permission to build across roads. After the talk, we got a chance to go into the library. I poked through the card catalog, found a couple interesting maps, and requested them, thinking they were probably in storage elsewhere and it would take days to retrieve them.

The librarian came back with several rolled up maps, placed them on the table, and said, "here you go."

Oh, my - lots of history, names of companies I hadn't heard of, and buildings that weren't on Sanborn maps. Better yet, they had blueprints and drawings of the different stations, usually as precursors for adding toilets or electric lights.

Those plans highlighted that my station models weren't quite correct. I'd assumed that the track side of the Market Street station (never captured in photographs because it was under the train shed) was identical to the street side. It wasn't; there were doors to a small post office storage area, and there were no windows on the track side of the baggage room. Although the Sanborn maps had been pretty accurate about the rough shape of the building and noted the two separate bays sticking out on the track side, I didn't realize one was the telegraph office, and the other was the ticket office. I also didn't know that some of the most visible windows on the street side of the building were actually to the ladies' rest room. Time to put frosted glass in those windows.

Similarly, drawings of the Campbell station similarly show a few mistakes (and some very odd plumbing as they retrofitted indoor plumbing into an 1877-era building.) The drawings also show the purpose of several doors I never quite understood, with a pair of doors leading to a hallway between the baggage area and office area. Again, the Sanborn maps and photos got me a long way, but there's a number of little details I got wrong.

And of course, the maps showed other details I got wrong. The valuation map for Campbell shows that the box factory spur I've got may not have existed at my time, but that a team track just south of the station (which I don't model) certainly did exist. The valuation maps also show that Campbell's station wasn't surrounded by dusty lots, but had a very nice hedge separating it from Campbell Ave. I'm not sure of the exact year of the map (probably after 1929), but it shows signals at the north end of Campbell, and highlights that I ought to be putting battery boxes in the middle of signaling blocks, not at the ends. I also notice that the Sanborn maps got the track arrangements reasonably correct, and I'm starting to realize the track arrangements I set up seven years ago really aren't as prototypical as I hoped.

The Market Street valuation maps show tons of details - air lines for pumping up brake lines, a couple new packing houses I didn't know about, new names ("Tersini Brothers" in the Rosenberg Brothers building - I haven't seen them listed elsewhere), and some extra detail on side streets. Here, the Sanborn maps deliberately get blurry, but the SP maps show every spur, and show that the packing shed I just finished should be served from a spur facing the other way.

So, yeah, that was a great afternoon in CSRM's library. If you're an SP modeler and you haven't been, go this weekend.

But even with the few mistakes, the models I've built are certainly good enough for now. I may want to rebuild them another time, or I may decide to add that team track, but I don't have to; my model railroad is probably just as fun for the operators with the flaws as without. Some of these details might really annoy me, but luckily the layout is a work-in-progress, and I'll fix those prototypical mistakes another day.

But the team track in Campbell gets added first. Leaving cars out on the passing siding just makes operating sessions annoying.

Next time, I'll talk about the other mistake I recently found: which fruit packer was in that building across the tracks from the Del Monte cannery? Place your bets on who occupied the building in 1935!

"You really don't need to know how many cars could fit on the auto ramp..."

Byron Henderson, when talking about his plan for a railroad based on the Western Pacific in San Jose, made the comment:

You know, you really don't need to wait for every detail to be correct before you start building. You really don't need to know how many cars could fit on the auto ramp at the San Jose freight station - by the way, it could fit three - before getting out of that armchair.

Well, you might not need to know about the track arrangements, but wouldn't it be nice to know when they last re-roofed the building, or did foundation work before building that model? Luckily, San Jose now has scans of old building permits on-line. I've already learned that one of the fruit packing sheds on Ryland Street (100 Ryland Street) was torn down in 1972 from its demolition permit, and 200 Ryland Street had its foundation redone when Abinante and Nola was occupying the building in 1944.

If you're modeling San Jose, check it out... and if you're modeling any place else, check whether the local city or town has started putting their records online, too!