Monday, January 31, 2011

Where in the World is Del Monte Plant #1?

After typing Del Monte Plant #3 a few times this evening, I went back to the question I occasionally ask myself: "Where was Del Monte Plant #1"?

This hints it was the San Francisco Cannery at Fisherman's Wharf. The building started off as the Alaska Packer's Association, and its location on Fisherman's Wharf makes perfect sense if the cannery was originally for fish.

The current Del Monte Plant #1 is in Modesto, and the Modesto Bee filmed a video showing what a modern cannery looks like. I suspect the canneries in the 1930's were smaller and had more labor, but were equally noisy!

And now, time for the big, messy, risky projects!

[Additional projects added.]

Last year was a bit of a mess. Between work and family pressures and a crazy merging of households that turned the garage into storage, I hadn't done much on the Vasona Branch (except for detailing the Alma scene.) However, I really love the operating session portion of the Santa Clara LDSIG meet, and knew I wanted to volunteer to host an operating session on the Vasona Branch.

The Santa Clara LDSIG meet is special because the organizers explicitly want to give novices the chance to try model railroad operations and work on a large model railroad that they might not otherwise see. My experiences in 2000, 2001, and 2002 on Don Marenzi's Alaska Railroad, Rick Fortin's Sierra Western and Santa Fe, and Dave Adam's Rio Grande layout convinced me I wanted to build another model railroad, and I wanted to focus on operation. I open my layout to repay their generosity.

Prepping for an operating session still takes quite a bit of time for cleanup, fixing mechanical problems, and doing all the polish and setup to make the visitor's experience nice. While I was working on the layout in the last month, I had to keep myself focused on projects needed for the operating session. I touched up scratched paint, added additional fascia panels to hide the helix, repaired the velcro for the curtains that hides the junk under the layout, tuned and rebuilt locomotives, fixed uneven track, and did amazing amounts of cleanup.

I also saw lots of larger projects that I knew I couldn't touch because there was the risk I wouldn't put things back together before the operating session. Now that the operating session's over, I can start on those projects again. Here's my "big messy project" list. We'll see which I can finish before the NMRA National Convention in July!

  • Add another lighting fixture over Los Gatos without overloading the existing garage circuit, and without running new conduit over the roof. Requires some contortion, some thinking, and a lot of care to avoid dropping a fixture on the layout. (The problem with a flat roofed house on a slab foundation is there's no attic for new wiring. My grandfather would be shaking his head in disappointment.)
  • Break the lower deck into two separate power districts so a short circuit in Campbell doesn't stop trains in San Jose. Easy work, but messy and irreversible once I start ripping out wires.
  • Get rid of the double-ended siding for the Campbell canneries, and stretch the Hyde track enough to hold more cars. Perhaps there might even be room for the Sunsweet dried fruit plant!
  • Rough-in scenery in the Vasona Junction area. Messy, and requires yanking out mainline track.
  • Fix trackwork so a 4-8-0 or 4-6-2 locomotive can run over the layout. My 4-8-0 currently shorts out in several locations when a dip in the trackwork causes it to nose into the rails.
  • Continue with the scenery in Alma, and cover the hidden tracks for good. I've been using the holes in the scenery to reach in for track cleaning.
  • Strengthen the layout legs and relevel parts of the layout.
  • Start building the spur to a mine at Alma. When I replaced the track in Alma a few years back, I added a switch at the lower end of the Alma siding for a track that would lead to a mine site above the helix. There's no real prototype, but I could plausibly put in a mercury mine (as a hint towards the New Almaden and Guadalupe mines one ridge over) or oil equipment for the wells at Moody Gulch. I've seen mention of a siding at Alma for some of the early oil exploration around the turn of the century, but few hard details.
  • Start building the structures at the Del Monte Cannery on Auzerais St.
  • Build the Yesteryear Models kit of the Riverside Sunkist packing house which is going to be kitbashed into the Ainsley Cannery.
  • Rip out and replace a pair of misbehaving Tortoise switch machines in Campbell.
  • Ballast everywhere.

So what's on your "it'll break the railroad for a month, but I ought to do it" work list?

The Perils of Being a Layout Owner

One of the weird parts of being the owner of an operating layout is that I almost never run trains on the layout when anyone's there. During operating sessions, I'm generally doing troubleshooting, setting up the next trains, watching for problems, and sharing stories about the places on the railroad. If I do run trains, it's usually when I'm testing that everything's working, or another time when I'm the only one around.

This weekend's operating session as part of the Santa Clara LDSIG meet was typical; I had four model railroaders from outside the Bay Area happily switching boxcars while I watched and kept my fingers crossed that all the cleaning and locomotive tuning from the last week or two kept everything running well.

The locomotives ran well. That wasn't surprising because in the previous weeks, I'd had to rip one brass locomotive down to individual parts to get rid of a snag in the movement, and a stripped gear forced me to find a new mechanism for my Life-like Baldwin 2-8-0. I also spent one weekend just cleaning the track, and it all seemed to pay off. I also focused on some cosmetic, non-operations details, repainting scratched portions of the fascia and boxing off the helix.

My only problem during the session was that I started getting complacent. The crews switched, I ran the passenger train on the timetable to cause some interference, then I talked with several guests who'd stopped by to see the layout. Then there was a lull in the conversation, and I realized that the crews were stopped, and I wasn't hearing the engines moving. "Uh... what's up - is everything running okay?" "Oh, yeah, we're just waiting for the second passenger train on the timetable to come by."

Whoops. I'd forgotten to run the second passenger train, and my very prototypical crews conscientously got their trains off on sidings ahead of time to get out of the way of the Santa Cruz express.

Time to give myself an egg timer so I remember to break away in time to run the scheduled trains.

Here's some photos of the operating session, Bruce and Gary switching Campbell, and John and Matthew switching Plant 51. I'd like to use the excuse I was just trying to capture the "hurry up and wait" feeling of real railroading, but I was just being clueless. Hope y'all had a great time!

Monday, January 24, 2011

California adobes

On this most auspicious day, 163 years ago, John Marshall discovered gold in a mill race in Coloma, California, and kicked off one crazed gold rush after another to fill California with folks aiming to get rich quick. Luckily, most of them, once they didn't get rich quick, figured out California wasn't a bad place, and ended up staying. Hopefully you celebrated the day via Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector day.

And if you don't like that, you can always celebrate the folks who were already here. The new Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette has a blurb about Andersen Model Kits, and their adobe structures. The adobes are a bit too New Mexico for a good California layout, but their Candelario Miramontes Adobe is a perfect match for what the typical Mexican era rancho would have looked like. It's too primitive to be Monterey style, but that's what the early Europeans families typically had in the early 19th century. You'd be hard-pressed to find one next to a California railroad (just because the land before the Gold Rush was so sparsely populated), but it's still authentic.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making the Tedious and Fiddly Less Painful

A while back when I was experimenting with the 3d printer, I realized that it might actually be better for the insides of model buildings than the outsides.

Yup, definitely.

One of the complications for the fruit packing warehouses near San Jose's Market Street station was their clerestory roofs. Many turn-of-the-century wooden warehouses (such as the Ainsley Cannery ones pictured here) had a small raised area at the roof line to let in more light and an exhaust path for hot air. They're very common around here, and even our lunchtime Italian restaurant in Campbell had such a roof. (Our lunch venue was formerly part of Sunsweet's Campbell (California) dried fruit packing plant, just down the road from the Ainsley Cannery.)

Unfortunately, clerestory roofs are a pain to build - lots of precise angles, small pieces, all sitting on top of an existing roof that may not be as square as I intended. These aren't very common in models, so I couldn't borrow an existing model for kitbashing purposes. Walther's Cornerstone Lumber Mill is one of the few plastic kits with such a roofline. There's a couple craftsman kits with such clerestory roofs (for example Campbell's Seebold and Sons), but I can't imagine they're not fiddly and tedious too.

I spent my weekend remembering how tedious and fiddly the roof could be, trying twice to cut identical ribs to hold the raised roof's shape. Neither came out square... or uniform... or even acceptable to my remarkably lax eye. The real problem in building the roof was making uniform ribs to get the proper cross section, matching the angle of the existing roof, and having pieces that could stay square as I glued the roof and sides on. Thin sheet didn't work well, even with lots of clothespins to try to hold them vertical.

Now, while the 3d printer can be a bit coarse, it's good at making identical parts and making duplicate parts with similar cross-sections. Why not print out the ribs? They don't need to be visible to the outside.

My first try was just making solid blocks with sloped bottoms and tops to match the existing roofline and the expected roof line for the clerestory roof. The blocks were also 1/4" thick, so they could stand on their own during construction. They still weren't easy to keep in place. The next revision added a vertical slot that could hold a plastic spline for the roof peak, and hollowed out the blocks so they'd use less plastic. The final splines are visible in the photo. They're not as thick as I would have liked, but the printer was starting to misbehave and I'm lucky I got these done.

To build the actual roof, I cut a strip of 1/16" styrene sheet for the spline, inserted it in the slots and spaced the ribs every 2 inches, and glued the spline in place. Next, I cut strips of the styrene for each side of the roof, then similarly cut pieces for the underside of the assembly (so it'll be easier to glue the roofline in place.) Next, I'll glue board and batten siding to both sides of the assembly for the outer walls (with window holes cut out), glue in the Grandt Line 5251 windows, and I'll be ready for final assembly.

These ribs didn't make the process completely painless; my first try at assembly failed because I hadn't cut the roof sheet correctly, and forgot that the building runs into the backdrop at an angle. However, the second try had everything go together remarkably smoothly. I'm tempted to make 3d models for the ribs in several different angles and widths/heights, and keep them on hand for my next clerestory-building adventures!

Mocking Up Structures

When I'm trying to figure out the size or shape of a new building, I've got two techniques for prototyping. Sometimes I'll build a model from bristol board, a thin cardboard often used for cardboard models back in the 1950's. I'll sketch out rough dimensions; pencil in windows, doors and other details; then cut it out and fold it together. Cardboard models are a nice way to spend time with the spouse; they're easy to work while watching a movie, and requires only the pad of cardboard, a square, ruler, and mechanical pencil.

My other trick has been to use SketchUp, a 3d drawing program, to experiment with size and window placement. Sketch Up is better when I'm unsure about the rough shape of the building and want to try out lots of possibilities.

I was staying up late last weekend providing moral support for an overworked spouse, and took a look at the last episode's gas station. Some quick pencil sketches and side views on graph paper didn't give me a good feeling for the shape of the building, so I experimented with different wall sizes in Sketch Up. Here's the result.

I'm not sure if I'm going to build a model of this gas station, but at least I've got the rough size and proportion correct now!

If you're interested in building a model of this gas station and want a copy of the Sketch Up file as a starting point for your own model, drop me a line. If a Spanish Revival gas station isn't to your liking, check out these historic gas stations in California, along with hints about common gasoline station brands.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Another Building Idea

Larry Harnisch's Los Angeles Daily Mirror blog is a fun read for anyone interested in California history, with reprints of columns and stories from the 'teens all the way through the 1960's and 1970's. He also has been showing photos from the L.A. Times's archive, especially publicity and movie industry photos.

This gas station, in the background of a shot showing a a movie being filmed, caught my eye. It's a cute little building, the right size for an HO model, and with an interesting roofline as well as those cutouts for the bells. I really don't need to build another Mission/Spanish Revival gas station, but this one cries out to be made. It probably would be very appropriate for the 3D printer, too!

[Postscript: the holes in the sides are imitating the campanario, or bell walls which were common features of California missions - check out the campanario at Missions San Diego, San Juan Bautista, and San Gabriel. The holes are often asymmetric in the missions, too.]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Progress on the Warehouse

Here's the latest photo showing the roof in place and the half walls blocking off the loading dock primed but not yet painted. The half-walls are interesting; the prototype photos show one of the warehouses had them, but the other didn't. I'm not sure what they're for - safety of the dock crew, or a way to avoid having produce disappear off the dock?

The roof (both front and back) is built as a single assembly with a huge amount of bracing, mostly cut from 1/4" strips cut from the 0.062" styrene sheet. I spent an evening last week bracing and regluing the Smith Manufacturing building because the 0.030 styrene sheet warped significantly over time. I don't want to do that again!

More Online Sources of Historical Information

When I started trying to model specific locations, getting accurate information, whether satellite photos, city directories, or fire insurance maps, required finding a library with the needed information and making time to actually search through their stacks. I really like searching through old books in the library, but I never make enough time for these projects. I've been to San Jose Library's California Room only a handful of times, and I've got a whole list of research projects - track down ownership records for the family fruit ranch, look at clippings for the various canneries, or find old immigration records - that never get done.

Luckily, the materials available on-line get better and better, and I'll spend a lot more time searching when I can do it in the middle of the night some time.

For the latest project building one of the Market Street Warehouses, I was looking at this photo of a locomotive crossing San Pedro Street near the old Market Street station. I was specifically checking out those clerestory windows in the raised part of the roof, but started wondering again about the occupants of each warehouse. I was pretty certain the one on the left is Levy and Zentner, a fruit and vegetable distributor that had locations around Northern California, but I was curious about the right hand warehouse. The sign matches the style of an Earl Fruit Company warehouse I'd seen in photos, but that warehouse was on the opposite side of the tracks.

Luckily, I've been doing some family research lately, and realized that the genealogy site had recently added city directories to their census records and other personal history records. Checking showed that they had Polk's City Directories for San Jose (and outlying towns) for a bunch of years between 1936 and 1952. Similarly, they've got a bunch for San Francisco in the 1880's and 1930's, and they've got a single 1930 city directory for Vallejo.

Some quick searching showed that in 1936, 395 North First Street had the Nash-Decamp Fruit Co., and 395a had the Earl Fruit Company. (Yes!) On San Pedro Street, 390 N. San Pedro had the Santa Clara Valley Fruit and Produce Co., 391 had Pacific Fruit Express and SP (in what I assume was the SP Freight Depot), 392 had Musante Fruit Broker, 392 1/2 had Pacific Produce Distributors, 393 had Peter Aiello & Co., and 397 N. San Pedro had American Fruit and Vegetable Growers. Even better, the directory has both the alphabetical listings as well as a street-by-street listing of what business or individual was at each address.

So I now know the right sign for my warehouse is "EARL FRUIT COMPANY" in blocky letters. Interestingly, Levy and Zentner is nowhere to be found in 1936. I also can see from recording the businesses at each address that the contents of the warehouses changed pretty quickly over the years. I'm very curious now what like was like as a packer or fruit broker, and how quickly such companies were created and dissolved.

There's an amazing amount of information on-line now that's useful for doing historic searches of railroads, and it's not always where you might expect it. Genealogy web sites, court records, scanned books (from Google and elsewhere), and U.S. government records can all hold just that gem of information you need for your layout.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rain in the Santa Clara Valley

Considering how wet December has been in the Santa Clara Valley, this video of floods in the Valley in 1937 seems very relevant.  If I needed ideas about modeling farm roads in the Valley, this provides some nice details like the "soft shoulder" and stick fence seen in one scene.

The videos are on-line thanks to the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County.

The video of photos of the Moriconi farm in San Jose is also worth watching for some images of the Valley in the 1930's.