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.)

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.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Model Twenty Years in the Making

Original Rio Grande Oil model, from 2001 or so.

It's amazing how long some projects take to build. Take, for example, this gas station. The original Barnsdall Oil company filling station, located outside of Santa Barbara, showed up in a Model Railroader magazine article back in April 1979. Teenaged-me probably saw the article just as I was getting serious about model railroading (and still reading issues at our public library.) It took me well into the 1990’s before I tried building a model of the gas station myself.

I'm really proud of that model. The cupola, dome, and roofline required some fiddly work. I'm also particularly proud of the beam ends and post detail on the roof over the gas pumps. I still see all my flaws, though. The actual building had alternating blue and white tiles - too hard for me to paint. The dome, carved out of balsa, isn’t very round and I didn’t really get the feel of the multicolor tiles covering it. I also showed the cupola as four-sided, when photos of the actual gas station show height lath-covered openings.

Worst of all, I didn’t bother to reproduce an elaborate set of detailed terra cotta panels along the roofline. The original Model Railroader article highlighted the geometric patterns on the terra cotta, and suggested lines could be carved into plaster applied on the model. I tried a different approach during the original build; one of my junk boxes still has the sample panels made of Fimo clay, hand-scratched with lines approaching the design. The Fimo result was too coarse, so I gave up on the detail and instead just cut out plain styrene to hint at the outline of the panels. I hated the lack of detail, but at least the model was done.

Why Bother With That Detail? Why did I bother to put all that detail into a little plastic model for my layout? Because even though the actual gas station is far away from San Jose, the design is eye-catching and very representative of the 1920’s in California. The gas station's style is called Spanish Colonial Revival. The style had a bunch of origins - interest in Spanish California starting in the 1880s (with publication of the novel Ramona) and hotels in Florida, but the style really exploded after the San Diego Panama-California Exposition used it for all the exhibition buildings. You can still see them in Balboa Park in San Diego. The style dominated Northern and Southern California in the 1920’s and 1930’s, for commercial and residential structures — just like mid-century modern took over thirty years later, or post-modernism changed our shopping malls and houses to brightly-colored stucco in the last 20 years.

Spanish Colonial has several branches, borrowing inspiration and details from the California Missions, classic Spanish architecture, and the architecture of Mexico and other Spanish colonies. Buildings tended to be low to the ground, with simple rectangular shapes, thick stucco walls, and hand-build details - doors with board detail, hand-forged ironwork and lamps, and tile roofs.

But many buildings went one step further - to the Churrigueresque style from Spain. Churrigueresque - definitely not a word you see much - refers to a very decorated and ornamented style often seen in Spain in the 17th century. Churriguesque buildings had facades absolutely covered carved or cast detail. Patterns could be abstract (like Moorish architecture), natural, or include human sculptures, shields, and the like. The Balboa Park exhibition buildings are particularly good examples of the style.

The Barnsdall Oil station, like most Spanish Revival buildings of the time, borrowed from many of these influences. The tile roof, rafter ends, plain stucco walls, and primitive bathroom doors all scream Mission Revival. The alternating-color tiles might be Moorish - or might be just practical. However, the two-story tower is completely twentieth century, built so the station would be visible as a Ford Model A driver accelerated up the hill from Goleta. And all that terra cotta at the roof line? Churriguesque.

This gas station isn’t the only building I know with that kind of detail. Another model I'd love to build is the Borchers Brothers building supply store, located next to the old Market Street station in San Jose. When Borchers built it in 1923, they built a brick building, but borrowed a bunch of Spanish Colonial Revival styles, then topped it off with a large window framed with similar elaborate terra cotta churrigueresque detail. I’ve got a great place for a model of Borchers Brothers, but I never knew how to pull off that window. I suspected 3d printing might help, but all my attempts ended up in the trash.


Rio Grande Gas Station, Goleta (Elwood) Calif.

So fast forward to a few weeks ago. We were driving back from a family trip to Disneyland when I realized we’d be passing that famous gas station, and I managed to convince Dear Wife that we ought to stop to stretch our legs. The gas station's still there along old Highway 101, just west of Goleta. It's boarded up and has obviously been unused for years, but somehow managed to survive. I got quite a thrill spotting all the details I got right - the rafter ends, carved detail in some of the posts. I also saw the elaborate terra cotta panels on the tower. There were bits missing, but the majority of the panels were still there

Detail of terra cotta panels.

The photos in that 1970's Model Railroader article were good, but they didn't really highlight the detail on those panels. Being there in person meant I could see the pattern, and also reminded me just how the tiles were the centerpiece of the whole building. Back home, I realized that my existing model - with flat styrene in place of the panels - really missed what was special about that gas station. Time for me to try again to capture the model.

The Panels The key for reproducing the panels would be getting the basics of the pattern correct. Terra cotta details for a Spanish Revival building can go a bunch of ways. Patterns could be geometric (as in Moorish Revival). Others, like the Borchers Brothers building, have floral patterns - acanthus leaves from Corinthian columns. Looking closely at Barnsdall Oil, I realized most of the patterns were swirls and spirals - volates, as the art historians would call them. Most patterns actually have two spirals going in opposite directions joined by a short segment. Many were paired together, looking like a U or shield.

I tried two approaches. First, I tried avoiding all that nasty 3d drawing, and instead tried to get a line drawing of the art from the photo. My plan was to take the detail as line art, emboss it so that the details stuck up, then 3d print the result. Photoshop and similar photo editing packages have ways to take a photo, square up the image, and adjust contrast enough to highlight the detail. However, I wasn't able to convert the photos into the shapes on the panels.

Instead, I simply started trying to reproduce the curves in the design in SketchUp, the 3d drawing program I use most. Once I spotted the volutes, the drawing process was straightforward. I just needed to build up some of the repeating shapes from multiple spirals, then plop in a few extra to fill in. To be fair, it’s actually more difficult than that - there’s several different spiral shapes and carvings.

SketchUp isn't great for compound curves, but three nights of work gave me a decent first version. I was also able to reproduce that round window, sunk well back in the wall. My original version of the model used a round Grandt Line window set just behind the wall - decent, but not faking deep adobe walls like the real gas station faked.

3d Printed Terra cotta panels, O scale

Once I had a 3d design drawn out, I 3d printed a set on the Form One printer, test-fit them to my model, and found I'd misjudged the dimensions of the tower. I stretched the design, printed again, and got some decent versions. Finally, I took a deep breath, picked up my original model, and pulled off that plain styrene sheet trim, cursing how well I'd glued it on the whole time. I even had to break out the Dremel to grind off some particularly well adhered bits. A bit of superglue attached the new, detailed panels. I repaired the stucco with the same technique I'd used originally - a mix of white glue and gesso. The combination dries really quickly, so I brushed it on then stippled it with a brush so it would have a stucco-like finish. A fresh coat of white paint (gesso) made the new stucco match the old.

I also printed a full set of panels for an O scale model, just in case I want to build another model of this gas station from scratch. Being able to scale up the part and print it for a different scale is easy to do with a 3d printer, but impossible with any of the 1970's approaches to making the gas station.

The Finished Model

Original model with new terra cotta panels.

Here's photos of the gas station with its new detail. There's still some incorrect details - the terra cotta "point" isn't quite the right shape, and the pattern isn't a precise match to the actual gas station. Still, I'm really pleased with how the extra work came out. I'm more pleased that 3d printing helped me solve a problem I couldn't fix twenty years ago.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Passenger Car Inspiration

Quick note: I've occasionally gotten interested in modeling the Southern Pacific passenger trains that went from San Jose to Los Gatos. Part of the fun and challenge is figuring out which cars actually ran on the Santa Cruz branch, and figuring out how to make models of those from available plastic, resin, and brass models.

Jason Hill is now sharing how he's customized existing models to match many of the trains going over Tehachapi Pass. Check out his Night Owl Modeler website to see his projects, including his recent work on a baggage / railroad post office car. Jason also has an illustrated guide to Southern Pacific passenger cars where he describes good starting points for each car.

Jason's interest in Railroad Post Office cars convinced me to learn a bit more about mail service over the Santa Cruz Mountains. In the 1930's, one train a day carried a Railway Post Office car. Inside, U.S. Mail clerks sorted mail and distributed it to the towns along the route. Here's hoping I can find some good details on the mail service!