Monday, December 29, 2014

Movie Night XXI: Drying Apricots at the Basuni Ranch

Just so we remember what summer's like, here's a great video from the Basuni family showing the work involved with drying apricots. Thank the California Pioneers of Santa Clara County for the work digitizing this and other videos!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The "Big Little Boss": Jennie Besana

Back in 1919, San Jose Evening News columnist Edith Daley spent a good part of her summer visiting the local canneries. In each, she pulled out her notebook and wrote a few facts on production, poetically described the magic she saw, and had kind words for the office staff that explained the business to her. When she visited the Contadina cannery on Race Street at Moorpark, she wrote:

F. Aiello is the owner and manager, but the office has a real “boss” in little Miss J. Besana. The way she juggles conversation about tomatoes and cans and hauling and open contracts and closed contracts is a joy! She has been with the Contadina since its opening and is a very valuable “office force.” She knows the machinery from scales to boiler, from copper coils in the big tomato puree cooker to the last can!
It is quite easy to get mixed up and call this clever secretary “the big little boss!”

("Contadina Co. Packs Many Love Apples": August 11, 1919 San Jose Evening News)

J. Besana was more than a secretary; she was a bookkeeper for the cannery, who managed the paperwork and sorted out the contracts with the growers. If you needed a reminder of how life in a cannery was awfully similar to life in a Silicon Valley startup, you only need to look at the "big little boss". Jennie Besana was just twenty-two years old at the time Edith met her, and she was already a seasoned bookkeeper who had worked for the local trolley line and a doctor in San Jose before keeping the books at Contadina. Even as she was living at home with parents, she was still holding a responsible position in the edgy and zany canning industry, which was probably as close as you can get in those days to working at Facebook or Yahoo.

Genevieve Besana was born in Novara, Italy, west of Milan. Her parents immigrated to the U.S. In 1898 when Jennie was two years old. She grew on Bishop Street, just off of Julian St. near the Alameda. (It’s now the stub end of North Morrison.) Her father, a laborer, worked at the Pratt-Low cannery in Santa Clara. Her brother, Melchior, pretty quickly went by the more American “Mickey”, and Genevieve always used her more informal “Jennie”.

Jennie went to school at St. Josephs (which I assume was associated with St. Joseph’s Basilica in downtown San Jose). Her walk to school would have taken her past Anderson Barngrover where they built all the machinery for the modern canneries. In 1915, she was in the school play as “Cora Brown, a spoiled child” in “The Rebellion of Mrs Barclay”. “Miss Besana is particularly pleasing in the scheme where she endeavors to assist Mr. Barclay in getting dinner, and succeeds only in making him go back on his principle that ___”. (That’s not my omission, but the reviewer trying not to spoil the ending. Go read one of the online copies to see how it ends.)

After high school, Jenny Besana worked as a bookkeeper, first at the Peninsular Interurban offices, then at a local doctor’s. All the while, she was living at home with her parents on Bishop St.

And some time around 1917, she heard about the new cannery being built by Italians from Back East, and joined in on the wild ride that was the tomato canning business in 1917. She worked at Contadina from its opening until the mid-1920’s, then walked across the street to the U.S. Products cannery for a similar job there.

In 1924, Jennie married Frank Maral. Frank was first-generation Portuguese; his father had bought a ranch out on White Road around 1900. Frank didn’t go into the orchard business, but was instead a millman at the Pacific Manufacturing Company in Santa Clara, and a charter member of the Alum Rock Athletic Club. Jennie and Frank moved into Frank’s house at 573 University Ave., currently located right in the middle of the Bellarmine campus.

In 1927, Jennie and Frank bought their own part of land, swapping the house for 5 acres on Blaney Ave. in Cupertino from Joseph D. Blabon. Blabon was a Cupertino rancher who had owned four hundred acres on the west side of the valley; the land he sold to Frank and Jennie had been bought from Ferdinand Blassey in 1905. Blabon still held significant acreage in prunes; a few years later in 1936, his hired help went on a rampage over low wages, “smashing windows and pulling fruit from trees”. (August 29, 1936 San Jose Mercury Herald, via Cecilia M. Tsu, “Garden of the World: Asian Immigrants and the Making of Agriculture in California”)

Frank and Jennie took a couple years to move (and perhaps to build a house), but by 1930, they were living out in the wilds of Cupertino. Jennie would have had an easy commute; just a quick walk up to Stevens Creek Road, and she could catch the interurban train all the way to Race Street.

I’d like to be able to say I’d heard more about Jennie from her grandchildren, but I can’t. She died in January 1935 at 37 years old; a cold or flu appears to have badly affected her heart thanks to a previous case of rheumatic fever. Before she died, she made Frank promise not to remarry. There were no kids. I couldn't even find a gravestone at the Santa Clara Mission Cemetery for Jennie.

January 12, 1935 San Jose Evening News: MARAL - In San Jose, Calif., January 11, 1935, Jennie Maral, beloved wife of Frank T. Maral, loving daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Besana of San Jose, sister of Melchior Besana of Cupertino and Mrs. Frances Isbeli of Berkeley Calif: daughter-in-law of Mrs. Agnes Maral of San Jose; a native of Novara, Italy, aged 36 years, 4 months, and 3 days. Funeral on Monday, January 14, 1935, at 9 a.m. thence to Holy Family Church, River and San Fernando Streets, where a requiem mass will be celebrated for the repose of her soul commencing at 9:30 a.m. thence to Santa Clara Catholic Cemetery.

Holy Family Church, at River St. and San Fernando, was a symbolic place for her funeral mass, for the church had been formed explicitly to serve the Italian immigrants of San Jose. Jennie probably attended the church as a child, and was married in that church as well. The church on River Street only lasted into the 1960's when it was torn down as part of urban renewal. The church re-formed on Pearl Ave. in South San Jose.

Frank continued to live on the property well into the 1960’s. He shared the house with his mother; his brother, Antone, lived in an apartment built into the former tank house with his wife Virginia - a small living room and kitchen on the ground floor, and bedroom above. The family raised turkeys on the ranch. In the late 50’s, Frank and Antone got out of the bird business, sold the ranch, and moved to a small adobe-style house on Stevens Creek Road. When the family moved out of that house in the 1960’s and into a modern tract house off of Wolfe, their old house became Cupertino’s Adobe Inn restaurant.

Frank lived on until 1969, and, true to his word, never remarried. He worked his entire career at Pacific Manufacturing, and lived his life in Cupertino. Frank’s relatives do remember that he was married to an Italian girl. The story of the dying wife demanding such a large promise did get passed down, but they’d forgotten that italian girl had been the “big little boss” of Contadina.

Now, Jennie wasn’t unique; my own grandmother kept the books for a vegetable packer in Hayward during the 1920’s. Like Jennie, my grandmother did the overall books, but she also handled the paperwork for outbound cars of peas with the railroad. One of the mementos my grandmother saved was her “cheat sheet” for car routing: cars for the Carbone Brothers in New York City went via the Western Pacific, Union Pacific, Chicago Burlington and Quincy, and finally Pennsylvania railroads. (Although the railroads could choose routings, shippers would often do it either for the control or to reward particular railroad salesmen.) She must have gotten a good grounding in railroad rates as well. When my dad started dating my mom, my grandmother was impressed enough by his background as a railroad rate clerk that she ignored the fact that he wasn’t Portuguese.

There’s lots of other stories about the paperwork in the offices of canneries being shuffled primarily by women who needed to understand the business, law, and human nature enough to deal with an irate farmer complaining about the prices on his contract. Other cannery visits by Edith Daley introduced Gertrude Carter as running the back office at Pyle Cannery (“Miss Carter finds this a unique season for the reason that the fruit is running almost too largely to high grade stuff. The pack is practically sold before it is canned, and this year the difficulty is in getting enough low grade fruit to fill orders.”) Filipina de Rosa and Mary Cribari were active at Bisceglia Brothers in 1919, though they had the advantage that they were also the owners. Tillie Lewis, in Stockton in the 1930’s, had the same benefit.

Edith’s articles came just after the end of World War I. The canning business had been going great guns ever since the World War started, creating both a demand for canned goods for the countries at war, and cutting off competing products from Europe. The U.S.’s entry into the war pulled men away from the cannery jobs. Edith Daley was seeing a world where women were not just working on the lines preparing fruit, but also running the canning machines at Alba Canning, and actually making the cans on the dangerous production lines at American Can. (“We haven’t lost any fingers this season.”) Edith probably had an easier time negotiating for her own by-line and column when men such as the Jack Wright, the future manager of the Evening News, was sent off to France. (Jack also wrote several “slightly fictional” columns about his wartime experience under the title "Private Prune’s Diary", which are worth a read.)

But in spite of the men being gone, all that probably didn’t mean that Jennie was going to be allowed to run the place. There were women in management at canneries. Clara Cribari could do it, but she owned Bisceglia Brothers. For other women there was a very firm glass ceiling: the women could do clerical work (and clerical in this case means both secretarial work and handling records - bookkeeping, filing, etc), but no more. I suspect management or customer-facing jobs were right out. Edith Daley’s article came at a time when the reader might have imagined times were changing… but weren’t going to change just then.

And even those clerical jobs weren’t particularly secure. Some companies wouldn’t hire married women at all, and would fire a woman who did marry. Jennie Besana’s affiliation change from Contadina’s bookkeeper to U.S. Products’ secretary happened at the same time that she took her married name.

On the other hand, if a war broke out and there weren’t men to hire, then why not hire sharp women? Twenty years later, during World War II, the June 27, 1945 San Jose News included the advertisement:

BOOKKEEPER, man or woman, for one of our clients in Gilroy, Calif. Must be competent and experienced. Steady, all-year employment. Five day week, salary $225 per month. Write giving full particulars. GIULI & GIULI, Public Accountants, Morgan Hill, Calif.

The same issue had Santa Clara Packing Co. looking for a bookkeeper as well. Jennie would have been a prime catch for either cannery.

Great thanks to Frank Maral's niece, Bonnie, for stories about the Maral family and for the stories she did have about Jennie Besana Maral. The review of "Miss Jennie Besana, "Spoiled Child" in Comedy, St. Joseph" appeared in the May 25, 1915 San Jose Mercury Herald.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Tomato Paste Land Rush

When you search on canneries in San Jose, you'll find a sudden explosion in tomato canning starting around 1915, and lasting well into 1918 or 1919.  One cause was all the new Italian immigrants who considered tomatoes and tomato products to be essential for their dinner tables.  In previous years, those immigrants had been buying imported tomatoes from the old country, but World War I made those harder to get.

Actually, there's a fair amount more to the story, not only in terms of what happened to the imported tomatoes, but also in terms of what the American producers had to do in order to take that market. How those different canners attacked the the Great Tomato Paste Land Rush doesn’t sound that unlike things today in the Internet era.

The actual details come, of course, from a court case. (Scroll a third of the way through the PDF to hit the story of Pastene vs. Greco)  And it's a good one too - full of drama, and direct quotes, with a cast of canners stepping on the witness stand to support one side or another, horror stories from the engineer trying to make experimental machinery work, and arguments over a farmer’s size estimates for the “tomato crop that got away”.

Greco Canning Co. Ad from October 1921 Western Canner and Packer

Our two main characters are Victor Greco and P. Pastene of New York.  Greco was the Elon Musk of the Valley of Heart's Delight, continually was coming up with new ideas for products to can, and experimenting with the machines needed to make these.   In 1916, three years after he started the cannery, Greco figured out that he could make a fortune if he could figure out how to make tomato paste. Pastene was an east coast wholesaler looking desperately for a source of tomato paste.  And just like Silicon Valley, these two men ended up in court because sometimes plans don't go the way you want.

It's 1915; World War I is raging, and Austria and Italy are fighting toe-to-toe in the Alps.  In 1916, Italy realizes that food for its people is scarce, and places export restrictions on canned tomatoes.  France does the same. The U.S., with a huge Italian immigrant population (three million Italian immigrants arrived between 1900 and 1915), is now desperate for tomato paste. Prices double and triple to 10 cents a can, much more than the average immigrant can pay.

But Santa Clara Valley canners were already good at growing and canning tomatoes, and how hard could it be to evaporate a bit more water?  Victor Greco decides to see if he can make tomato paste; with a bit of work on the stovetop, he sees that the process of evaporating away the water is easy.

Greco and Pastene start trading letters in January, 1916, with Greco noting:

"Regarding Naples Tomato Sauce packed in small 6 oz. tins, in view of the present conditions in Europe which makes it almost impossible to receive any of this commodity from said country, we are contemplating to pack about 60,000 cases of the article above mentioned which will be sold as a substitute of the Imported.
As we are Italian and know what the Italian people must have and being very familiar with the method of manufacturing this article, you can rest assured it will be the equal of that imported from Italy..."
"P.S. We are located in the heart of the Santa Clara Valley where some of the finest tomatoes in the world are grown."

Pastene, on a visit to the West Coast in April, 1916, hears about the great plan, and signs a contract for 3,000 cases.

So now Greco Canning needs to scale up on the tomato paste project. Victor Greco goes to San Francisco, bringing drawings of the evaporators used by the finest canners in Naples. Greco convinces the Oscar Krenz Manufacturing Company, normally active in coppersmithing, to make some vacuum pan evaporators in the the Neapolitan style - no one else had tried making such equipment before in the U.S. Greco installs it in his cannery and gets to work making tomato paste, with engineers from Krenz helping get the machinery running smoothly.

But there’s risk here: there’s the usual questions about getting sufficient fruit, but Greco is also trying novel machinery to cook the tomato paste, a process that hasn't been tested at scale, smaller 6 oz cans to match the Italian style, and is even trying fiberboard boxes (instead of the traditional wooden boxes) to save weight. That’s very Silicon Valley - it’s a new product and a bit risky, but Greco thinks he can pull it off.

And they hit snags. Greco had chosen the vacuum pan approach (boiling the tomatoes at a lower temperature in a partial vacuum) because it concentrated the tomato flavor better with less heat. The Italians used to cook down tomato sauce in an open pot, but the better Italian canners have rejected that approach for the vacuum pan. Greco's variant on the machinery is a 750 gallon cooking vessel eight feet tall with one inch tubes to circulate the stuff being evaporated near the heat. Unfortunately, the prototype's narrow tubes - appropriate for reducing sugar solutions - are too small for the thick tomato pastes. The tomatoes keep sticking into the tubes and burning, forcing the repair crew to shut down the process and clean out the entire machine. Sometimes they need to use electric drills to remove the hardened paste, and once it took them five days to get the machinery back into action.

It didn’t help that it was a bad year for tomatoes. Late frosts in May killed off some seedlings, and early rains in October and November ruined the crops. The normally ten week season was a month shorter than usual, with many tomatoes failing to ripen. William Greer, farming on “Mr. Kell’s place” (probably along Almaden Road) delivered 3.5 tons per acre to the cannery, but six times that amount was left in the fields, spoiled. J. L. Mosher, a farmer and orchardist, testified to an equally bad year, delivering two tons per acre instead of 12. “I have not been in the tomato business since.”

And now there was a problem. Greco had sold 18,000 cases of tomato paste that season (down from the 60,000 case goal) for prices between $6.50 and $8.50; between the problems with the vacuum pans and lack of tomatoes, he managed 3,500. Pastene was unhappy from several angles. He didn’t get the tomato paste he’d ordered. He wasn’t happy with the quality (some of the tomato paste had a “consistency not much greater than water.”). He felt that Greco had tried out a risky project without warning him. To add insult to injury, when he did receive the tomato paste, the railroad had billed the shipment at the freight rate for tomato sauce, twice the shipping cost for catsup, canned tomatoes, and other tomato products. (Oh, the railroad tariffs were twisted in those days.)

And even with all that disappointment, Pastene closed his last letter to Greco asking about tomatoes. "We would like to treat with you for a purchase of next season's pack. What can you offer?"

When the lawsuit over the missing and substandard tomato paste made it to court in 1920, Greco testified. “It was a defect in the machinery.” The farmers came to the witness stand and lamented the horrible season where the rain and frost forced them to leave behind a good part of their crop. Several canners (including Elmer Chase for the Canner’s Assocation and Richmond Chase, R. W. Crary from the California Cooperative Canneries, and Charles E. Hume of the G. W. Hume company, defined a “short pack” and how equipment failure was a valid reason for a canner to not deliver product.

H.T. Rigg, the engineer hired away from San Jose Ice and Cold Storage to run the plant shared stories of drilling out blocked tubes and warning Greco that they weren’t going to meet deadlines:

“The first date is October 10th when I began [keeping a production diary]. That day I was delayed two hours and ten minutes on account of the pulper, that is, the machinery on the lower floor. Then we were delayed two hours cleaning the pans, No. 2 vacuum that same day. The delay of the pulper necessarily stopped the vacuum. There is a continuous feed from the pulper to the vacuum. There was a total stoppage on that day of four hours and ten minutes… And on the 11th we started at 6 a.m. in the morning and stopped at 9:20 in the evening and stopped two hours for the pulper again. Stopped another hour and 30 minutes for lunch. Then we stopped again to clean No. 2 vacuum pan. This was on the 11th. On the 12th No. 1 pan stopped 23 hours for cleaning. This 23 hours carried us into the night. We worked during the night cleaning the pans. Mr. Greco was there off and on around where I was working. I cleaned it out by using an electric drill. The product had so caked and burned inside of the tubes that it had to be drilled out by an electric drill…”

That went on for days: problems with the vacuum plans clogging, failures in the pulper, cans jamming in the sealer machinery. The rotary cooker broke. All-night repair sessions aren’t unique to modern-day Silicon Valley.

And just as things were working, a lack of tomatoes and nothing to work with.

For the other side, Charles Bentley, of the California Packing Corporation, declared that they’d had no problems finding tomatoes to pack in the 1916 season, and that it was truly a rare farm in the Santa Clara Valley that could manage 25 tons per acre. Charles Davis, the general manager for the California Conserving Company in Oakland, described that he’d had fine luck with the closed kettle style of tomato paste production in the 1916 season, and that he’d treated “salsa de pomidoro” as an experimental product in his first season. When the judge asked him about the Greco machinery, Davis sounded a bit mystified about why they were using such a complicated method.

Judge: “And the process involved a forcing of the material being treated through a set of tubes, instead of being boiled in pans…”
Davis: “No, that’s a new one on me.”
Judge: “Your method did not involve that?”
Davis: “No, nothing of the character.”

The lawsuit also contains many of the letters between Greco and Pastene, at first in the spring of 1916 with a an optimistic tone: "being very familiar with the method of manufacturing this article", then with Pastene hopeful in October: “We certainly trust that you will find that you have been over-conservative in making this (25% delivery) estimate. Greco responds stoically in October with what he can deliver. “Twenty per cent is about the very best that we are going to be able to fill. Regardless of this, so as to make up a minimum car[load] we have shipped you 665 cases for which enclosed find copy of invoice…. we are now planning for a new arrangement for next season and will install a different system of vacuum pans, and hope to be more fortunate in our pack.” And finally anger from Pastene in December 1916: “This is not a fair deal and one unworthy of yourselves and unjust to us who trusted you, and were one of the first to sign your order.”

Victor Greco’s 1916 dash into the tomato paste market may have ended awkwardly, but he managed to fix the line in future years. Halfway through the 1917 season, he junked the old vacuum pans and tried a new design that clogged much less often. Two years later, at the beginning of the 1919 season, Edith Daley visited Greco Canning. Toma-Butter Soon To Appear on Every Table”, the piece started, as Edith explained how Victor Greco would introduce tomato paste to the American home. She also hinted at the complexity of the machinery:

The “heart” of this equipment is a 500 horse power boiler, 55 feet high and containing 200 four inch tubes each 24 feet long. This tremendous energy producer is exhibited with pride by Mr. V. V. Greco who tells you that it is the “Biggest boiler on the Pacific Coast”. This leviathan of boilerdom is manufactured by the Wikes Boiler Company of Saginaw, Michigan. It looks big enough to “boil” Lake Michigan, Saginaw included!… Two immense storage tanks furnish food for a battery of twelve vacuum evaporators with a capacity of 1500 gallons each.”

After all he’d been through in 1916, Greco certainly would have shown off the new machinery with pride. With twelve vacuum pans and twice the capacity each, he could produce a thousand cases of tomato paste a day, and could have filled the fateful order from Pastene with a couple days work.

But Greco probably had competition now. Even Victor's brother, Anthony, got into the act, leaving Greco Canning to start his own "Anthony Greco Cannery", producing $105,000 in tomato paste in the 1917 season. Upstarts like Contadina and Salsina Canning both started canning tomato paste in San Jose in 1917. Gus Lambrosa, one of the founders of Salsina, explained his vision to the Evening News: '“This country sends every year about seven million dollars to Italy for tomato paste, which is used in macaroni”, said Lambrosa today. “There is no reason why this money should not be kept in this country.”'

Lambrosa got his wish. Contadina was canning 150,000 cases of tomato paste a season by 1922, and Americans (immigrant and non-immigrant) got their tomato paste from California fields.

As for the lawsuit, which finally got settled in the early 1920's, I'd probably agree with the verdict: Victor Greco took a chance on moving into tomato paste, but hadn't completely worked out the process and the machines he'd need to do the job. Pastene was right to demand payment.

"During the year 1916, the peeled tomato and hot sauce departments of our canning plant were operated during the daytime while the Salsa De Pomidoro department was operating day and night. We would have made more profit out of the Salsa De Pomidoro. It was our interest to run the Salsa De Pomidoro plant at full capacity. We ran it to the fullest capacity that we possibly could. In other words, while running it, we had considerable interruptions, and, therefore, the capacity was reduced, owing to those interruptions." -- Victor Greco, from his testimony.

On the other hand, it's a very Silicon Valley story. Victor Greco's started a cannery; he's been running it for a few years, and he sees a big market opportunity. Grabbing for that - rushing to make tomato paste, and assuming that he'd work through any bugs - seems like the right choice for someone trying to make a big splash. All the other stories: toma-butter branded tomato paste, Grepo grape syrup, the Bottled Pure Juice Company making tomato and artichoke-based drinks - all suggests that Victor Greco was going to try for the big score. I think he'd fit right in to the modern Silicon Valley.

(P. Pastene & Co., Inc. vs Greco Canning Co, case #16076, Southern Division of U.S. District Court for Northern District of California, Second Division, August 30, 1920. We get to see all the letters and testimony thanks to Greco's appeal of the initial ruling.) Scroll about a third of the way through the PDF to find the Pastene vs. Greco material.

Previous versions of this article declared that Victor Greco had made artichoke-based drinks and ran salt ponds. We were mistaken; the crazy inventor in the family seems to have been Victor's brother Anthony, who broke away from Greco Canning to make his own tomato paste cannery, fought his brother for a string bean canning tool, and believed that the quickest way to dispose of a debt was to tear the note up and flee to Oregon.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Everything's On the Internet These Days: Tracking Down the Lick Mill Mystery Industry

[Just found this half-written article hidden in my Blogger account. It's a year late, but worth sharing.]

Last year, I posted a link to the Dome of Foam’s wx4 Whatzit? Contest where E.O. Gibson posted some photos of some strange tanks behind the Lick Mansion in Santa Clara. (Go take a close look at the photos before proceeding; the research hints will make more sense.)

E.O apparently has multiple winners, for at least two good answers got sent by Bill Foley (who posts all the videos on Youtube for the Society of California Pioneers) and me. Now, the interesting about the search is that we both did our research in different ways. How we did the searches might be useful for anyone considering a future in the lucrative business of historic-web-blogging. Most importantly, the research really shows how much information's out there on the Internet... if you just know the right way to look for it.

Robert’s Approach When I started on E.O.'s challenge, I started from recent days and went backwards. All the piping in E.O.'s photo - especially the insulated pipes and strange machinery - suggested oil refinery or chemical process to me, so I started by checking recent (1960's) phone directories on for chemical companies in Santa Clara in the right area. No luck. I used Historic Aerials to try to track down a street address, and figured out the address of the plant was off Montague Expressway… but still no matches appeared.

Finally, I decided that if there’s one thing true of every chemical plant in the Santa Clara Valley, it’s that the place probably leaked chemicals in the groundwater, and they probably got caught. That means there’s bound to be a record of the cleanup, whether as a federal government superfund cleanup site, or as a local one. So, I started searching on “superfund santa clara”, “groundwater link mill”, and got my first clue: a reference in the EPA Superfund database mentioned groundwater contamination from “International Minerals and Chemicals, solvent distributor”, but provided no other details other than that the case was handled completely by the state of California. It did describe the site as “Mansion Grove” which turned out to be a key search term to use.

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Now, I’d assumed from E.O.’s initial posting that the chemical plant was near, but not part of the Lick Mansion site. The Mansion Grove name turned out to be linked to the Lick Mansion, and encouraged me to learn more about the mansion itself. I finally checked Wikipedia and find that the Lick Mansion had been used for more than just paper making: “An 1882 fire destroyed the mill and in 1902 the Lick Mill complex was converted to the manufacture of alcohol. A series of owners, including Union Distilling, Western Grain and Sugar Products, Western Carbonic Gas, American Salt and Chemical, and Commercial Solvents and Chemical, manufactured a wide variety of products at this location.” (The quoted text sounded a little stilted, and a search on the exact words confirmed it had been cribbed from the Library of Congress’s Historic Architectural and Engineering Survey. HAES had done a survey, photos, and drawings of the plant in the 1970's, and so plans for the Lick Mill site are actually available online.

The reference to Commercial Solvents and Chemicals gave me another term to search for, and I found that company had invented processes for acetone and butanol, and was bought by IMC in 1975.

Finally, I found the details of the contamination at the site (now covered with apartments). The five year report declares that the site was used for solvent and alcohol production and recovery. So all that piping and distilling equipment makes sense - they were creating, distilling, and recovering alcohol and other solvents.

So, to recap: the piping suggested chemicals, but no chemical companies were listed in contemporary phone directories. After reaching a dead end, I started searching again looking for material that would get into permanent records: groundwater contamination reports and legal proceedings, and found both the name of the last owner as well as a report on the site. Wikipedia and the Library of Congress Historic Architectural and Engineering Survey then turned up nice summaries to help me track the property back.

Bill’s Approach Bill started from the other end - he had access to a good online source of old newspapers and local history books, so he started by searching for Lick Mill and turned up a distillery (the Lick Distillery) and a co-located chemical company.

“Lick Mill Chemical Company was hiring workers and a few laborers (blacksmiths and pipe-fitters) in May of 1918, (and a few laborers).  the factory seems to have taken the place of the paper and flour mills, and  used some of the buildings that didn't burn when the flour mill did in 1880.  Lick's buildings were supposed to be over-engineered, and Arbuckle's History of San Jose (p1390 claims that it cost $380,000 to build, and that "a former piano maker and artificer in woods, Lick adorned and finished his main structures with imported hardwoods.  His skill with these materials won for his mill the sobriquet "James Lick's Mahogany-Wainscoted Mill."

“The property also may have been shared by the Lick Distillery (initially known as the Union Distillery Company), which was in operation from 1902 through at least 1918, though an article at the latter date states that it could not handle pulp and had no tanks at the time.

The distillery made alcohol from sugar beet molasses.  Not too much of a stretch to say that prohibition may have curtailed those activities and made the chemical side of business more lucrative.  the distillery itself, however, was supposed to be making $100,000 right off the bat (article included).”

It also turns out that there are folks interested in distilleries, so someone’s recorded legal warehouse records for the Lick distillery. An old newspaper also noted that the distillery operated on waste material from sugar production (probably sugar beets). The San Jose Mercury News also included additional tidbits about the plant, noting “two cars of molasses arrived at the Lick Distillery yesterday”, helping us model railroaders understand both the loads arriving at the plant and the number of cars it received.

Interestingly, they weren't the only ones working with the waste product from the sugar refineries; the Stauffer Chemical on South First Street used sugar beets to produce Accent flavor enhancer (MSG). I made a joke to a former GE San Jose plant worker about headaches from MSG fumes, and she surprisingly confirmed that the Accent plant did put out not-quite-pleasant fumes that were detectable by the GE Nuclear workers.

Bill also checked some local museums, and found that the property flooded many times, including in 1902, 1903, 1907, 1938, and 1940. He even found photos of flood damage. One of the photos showed the tall smokestack used at the plant. Local history books also helped; Phylis Butler's "The Valley of Santa Clara" (1975) says that "for more than 50 years, it (the former distillery) has been the headquarters for a variety of chemical companies". Bill also went to Historic Aerials and noted that the plant had been leveled around 1986. He also found articles in the Mercury News in the mid-1980’s about plans to turn the site into a park. That didn’t happen; like much of that part of the Valley, it’s all a sea of apartments now.

"The property was leveled in about 1986, as you can see in Historic Aerials. San Jose Mercury News articles from 1987 indicate that a failed attempt was made to preserve the whole site as a park, but it was instead developed as apartments.  During construction, remains of an Ohlone barbecue site with charred elk bones was found.”

So to recap Bill’s approach: he started by searching on the initial connection - the Lick Mill, then moved forward in time looking for alternate company names. He then dived through the other sources he had - local history books, newspapers, and some friends who’d worked in the area to fill out remaining details.

Your Turn And so that’s how we tracked down the solution to the wx4 Whatzit? Contest. If you’ve done your own historic research (whether for model railroading or for general history), much of this might seem very familiar. Some of the tricks here would probably work for you:

  • search with keywords related to the parts of the history that would end up in legal or newspaper records
  • search both from the modern day back and early days forward
  • when all else fails, try out wild-ass guesses like the chemical plant searches.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Next Project Sneak Preview: Hart Convertible Gondola (G-50-3)

I've already shown pictures of my 3d-printed SP CS-35A flat cars. I've also hinted at my F-50-4 models - 1915-era flat cars with very thin decks. I've printed some of those flat cars; they're visible on the video that went along with the CS-35A article, but they're also a pain to decal because the prototype lettering looked an unreadable four inches high. I'm feeling pretty good about both these models, and happy to be on my way to having some flat cars for lumber service on the Vasona Branch.

So what's next? Looks like it's going to be the patented Hart Convertible gondolas, known to the Southern Pacific bean counters as the G-50-4. Harry Hart of the Rogers Ballast Car Company designed a gondola that could be used for different jobs repairing a railroad's maintenance-of-way. Doors on the side of the car open to dump fill dirt out. The floor hinges up to open a hopper area to dump ballast between the rails. The end bulkheads could be moved towards the center of the car to keep ballast near the hopper, or removed so that rail or other heavy material could be dragged off the end of the car. SP had around 700 of these cars, which existed into the 1940's.

This has been a pain to print. It's a forty-foot car, so it won't print flat on the Form One. Printing the model tipped up allowed the model to print, but the support material to hold the half-printed car used a ton of resin. I also had problems with dirty mirrors over a few weeks that resulted in several failed attempts and a lot of wasted resin. But after finally identifying the problem and cleaning the mirrors, I've been much happier. I've found that I can print the cars vertically with pretty good success. Those successes also mean that it's possible to print 50 foot HO freight cars on the Form One.

And the detail's mighty sweet, too - the castings for holding the door print cleanly, as do the underbody trusses and hopper assembly.

I'll tell more later - I'm still working on this. I've just finished a second print of this model with correct strapping for the hinged doors, hinged metal apron to cover the spaces between cars, room for the brake wheel on a corner, and a mount on the side of the car for the brake cylinder. However, this photo at proves that I'm actually printing non-trivial 40 foot cars.

3D Printing's Killer App: Printing Tons of Human Figures?

Human figures are a big problem for model railroads. There's few sources for the figures, they're often drawn to resemble 1970's European figures (because of the primary vendor). There's few figures available for the uncommon modeling scales. But we need those human figures to keep our scenes look like we're modeling a live, active world, and not some post-neutron-bomb apocalyptic scene. (Kids, if you don't know what a neutron bomb is, ask your parents. Or ask Google.)

One of my big surprises for the Form One is how beautifully it does tiny figures. showed some examples soon after I got the printer. This latest photo shows the results from letting the printer do lots of multiple figures over a couple evenings last week - about forty figures in four different poses.

The figures are all from the Great Fredini, who has scanned attendees at the 2013 World MakerFaire New York and other events on the East Coast. Here, I'm printing four models: MichaelZ, Sir Makealot, Kathy C., and Joe and his kids.

After making do with 1970's German figures from Preiser or random injection molded figures from unknown manufacturers, there's two things very special about these figures. First, they're very detailed - you can see some of the details of the person's face and hair. That's detail you usually don't see in injection molded figures. Second, these figures look like real Americans, because, well, they are. If you're not modeling a world filled with wasp-waisted women in tea dresses and conservatively dressed men from the Preiser line, these figures look much more suited for a modern American layout: people who are normal sized for America, or potentially wearing football jerseys, or t-shirts, or shorts and flip-flops. These models aren't perfect for me and my 1930's layout, but I appreciate that they look *right* for a modern layout.

These 3d models don't fully replace the injection molded people. It takes time and an expensive printer to make the figures. These models are skewed towards modern-day figures, so you're not going to be able to get a full set of 1940's figures any time soon. Still, it's going to make filling a scene with realistic people much easier for our modern modelers.

Technical details: I could easily print about 9 figures in HO scale in an hour and a half, printing at 0.050 mm (0.002 inch) layer resolution. The print time was driven mostly by the time to raise the platform; I probably could have printed 16 or 25 figures with little increase in print time. My only constraint was just getting the software to handle more figures; these models are very detailed, so just trying to do the slicing match on 25 figures brought my old laptop to its knees. Cutting the details on these models would have made printing 25 - or 75 - quite feasible. And the great thing, of course, is that none of this is HO specific. If you wanted S scale figures, or TT scale figures, or 1:43.5 figures to match your true O scale models, you can print all the human figures you need for your layout. So with a long weekend, I'd have the figures for a pretty big mob.

Fredini's models were scanned using a Microsoft Kinect sensor, a home-made scanning rig, and some off-the-shelf software for converting the Kinect's data into a three-dee model. He's continuing to scan folks at various events, and his collection of 3d models of visitors to his booth at Coney Island is another great source of figures for your model layout. I'm waiting to see a similar scanning booth at model railroad shows.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Setting the Scene: How the People, the Equipment, and the Containers Describe an Industry

So here’s a fun photo from the John C. Gordon collection at San Jose State: a photo of the California Packing Corporation’s plant #21 at Milpitas. The photo probably dates from the twenties or early thirties, I expect, and gives a lot of detail about both the workforce and the plant.

Now, there’s a bunch of interesting bits worth examining in this photo.

The workforce looks like it’s half men and half women, with the men primarily in coveralls and women primarily in white. There’s no obvious management; there’s a couple guys who look cleaner than the others - one in a jacket, and a couple with shirts and pants - but you don’t see the guys in suits or the owners like you’ll often see in the photos of a cannery. The men mostly look anglo; although there’s a few faces that look Italian or Portuguese, most look anglo. The women, however, seem to go more for that southern European look - I’m seeing a lot of faces from old family photos here.

Next: what’s with those cranes, and what’s that wilted stuff that’s on the truck and its attached wagon? My initial guess was that it’s bringing in some sort of plant where processing the crop in the field is too labor-intensive. One possibility is that they’re some tiny crop - maybe peas. Or maybe they’re the tops of plants that went to seed. There’s mention that there were seed farms in Milpitas, so perhaps Del Monte was letting the plants flower, cutting them down, then threshing the seeds out in the plant here? The cranes might be used for bringing in the whole plant - the whole plant would be cut down in the field, brought here to the packing house. You can also see some sort of hoppers located in the wall along the right loading dock, with wheelbarrow-sized openings to pour something into.

While we’re at it, how about that truck and trailer, and those cool wooden wagon wheels?

And finally, if you look along the loading docks, you’ll see an interesting mix of containers. Towards the center of the photo, you’ll see a stack of what look like trays, and then, just to the left, you’ll see some shiny objects. That’s tin cans, fresh from the can factory. They’re stacked up, with wooden sheets separating each layer of cans. Although there’s a lot of cans there, the pile of the separating trays, off to the right is even more impressive, suggesting it’s been a busy canning season.

Now I’ve never thought much about how cans get to the cannery. I’ve heard my dad’s story of a summer spent at either the Hunts cannery in Hayward or the Del Monte plant in San Leandro grabbing cans out of boxcars with a long stick with metal fingers spaced out a can’s width apart. That was in the 1950’s. It looks like in these earlier times - or at this lower-volume cannery - the cans arrived in a more primitive way.

Then you’ll see lug boxes for bringing in the crop, and a sign above the door that I’m sure says “POSITIVELY NO SMOKING”, and some sacks of something. And finally, at the far left, some Del Monte product boxes, all labeled “SUGAR PEAS”.

And the mystery is solved. The Milpitas plant was canning sugar peas on this day. The pea plants got cut down in the field and pitchforked up onto wagons, then hauled to the cannery where the cranes tipped the wagons and their loads onto the loading dock. The hoppers are actually the input side of the viners, which would strip the pods from the vines and the peas from the pods. The peas would go in the lug boxes, then be carried into the cannery for cooking and canning. The cans are there on the dock ready to put into the machinery. When the product was canned, the result would go in the nice wooden crates at the left.

There’s even a video confirming this; Del Monte filmed the action at a pea cannery in 1939, and that’s on YouTube. The 8 minute mark shows the peas being harvested; the 10 minute mark shows the pea vines being tossed into the viner.

And we’re learning all that from just the stuff out on the loading docks.

Now, as a model railroader trying to detail cannery scenes, what we’ve learned from this photo really highlights how the clutter on a model helps a viewer understand what’s happening. Being able to see the raw material (the pea vines and cans), the finished products (cases of canned peas), and the workers hints at what’s going on here, and helps the photo - or the model - set a story.

Let’s Build Containers!

Normally, telling a story through those details on a model railroad either takes a lot of work or a fair amount of cash. Take sacks, for example. A prune packing house should be overrun will full sacks of prunes around September, for the local orchardists bring in their crop bagged. If you've got a prune packing house on your layout (and I've got three), then you need a lot of very tiny HO scale sacks of prunes. There's normally two solutions: make them, or buy them. I've made sacks from Fimo clay, but it's a slow process. You roll out a long string of clay, chop it into pieces, flatten it a bit, shape, and bake. (Interesting bit of trivia: Fimo polymer clay costs $3.59 for 50cc of material, or around seven cents a cubic centimeter. It makes the resin for the laser printer at fifteen cents a cubic centimeter seem pretty affordable.) Getting metal castings of filled sacks is possible - the military modelers love them for making foxholes and protected positions. But getting a ton of sacks involves spending real money.

Boxes and crates have the same problem - there's store-bought ones, but they tend to be in a few designs, and you'll never find more than a few for sale at a time. They're also hard to make by hand; either you make a lot of fiddly details and glue them together, or figure out a way to mock up entire stacks or rows of boxes with a printed image or some artfully placed scribe lines. Boxes are also hard to get right because of the precise shapes. The sacks can have mistakes and look mostly correct, but if your scribe lines don't make all the boxes the same size, then you've spoiled the illusion.

And then there's other containers that you can't buy. You've already seen my drying flats - a detail that's both impossible to buy commercially and a pain to build from scratch. Empty boxes (such as field lugs) aren't available as castings, though Ken Harstine sells some beautiful stacks of fruit lugs on Shapeways.

And all of this makes 3d printing a great solution for printing large numbers of detailed containers for a particular scene. The 3d printer is great for doing runs of lots of duplicate items to fill out a scene. Digital models make it easy to do variations - this stack is 6 boxes high, that one's seven, and the other has one slightly out of line.

And the best thing is that 3d printing is a great way for those little details you wouldn't necessarily see across the US, and thus aren't popular enough for the manufacturers. Remember those stacks of empty cans? I've never seen those on a store shelf before, but with some judicious 3d drawing, I can make some stacks for my own canneries.

Photo from the John C. Gordon panoramic photo collection at San Jose State University. They also have the regular John C. Gordon collection which has a bunch of commercial scenes from San Jose over the years.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Progress on San Carlos Street

J.S. Roberts, 1934

The San Carlos Street viaduct is one of the key scenes for the Vasona Branch. The SP paid for the viaduct in the early 1930's as a last step before main line tracks could be removed from Fourth Street and the business district of San Jose. The viaduct jumps over the former South Pacific Coast tracks heading towards Campbell and Los Gatos, but, more importantly, it provided space for the new mainline tracks to head under the viaduct and around town.

As a model, the viaduct's important; it's a well-known location around these parts, it adds interest to a boring turn, separates the West San Jose and Auzerais Street scenes, and has the potential to add clutter and action. Sadly, the area's not gotten much love; I've been collecting photos and ideas for reworking this area, and I've been building a new version of the packing house just under the viaduct, but I'm finally getting some modeling done.

Here's photos of the scene after a busy week. The packing house is in place (with some resin-cast prune boxes on the platform). The sweet looking CalPak sign text is a guess, but there's a sign with similar outlines from the back in one of the photographs of the area. The bridge supports almost match the actual bridge - a mix of two-legged piers (for piers that weren't liable to be damaged), partial walls (near railroad tracks), and full walls (for the Dupont Street underpass I'm not modeling).

The storm drain pipe with water was an afterthought, and a nice way to quickly add a bit of interest and action to the scene.

John S. Roberts photo taken from a John C. Gordon photo in the San Jose State University special collection.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Printing a Freight Car: Southern Pacific CS-35A Flat Car

I’ll admit it. I’m not a freight car modeler. Sure, I’ve had an appreciation for appropriate freight cars from my era, and I’ve built a lot of resin kits for the Vasona Branch. But I’m not one of those folks who could argue the difference between the different patent pressed-car ends, or could tell you what percentage of B-50-14 boxcars had Bosendorfer side doors, or would argue about the appropriate underframe for a stock car. But, hey, all that goes out the door when I decide to print freight cars on the 3d printer.

My list of potential 3d-printer projects has always included a few freight cars. As popular as the Southern Pacific may be, modeling the 1930’s means building a lot of resin kits, searching eBay for old kits, or finding a lot of stand-ins. One example would be the Hart convertible gondolas, frequently used for dumping ballast on railroad tracks. Another would be flat cars - Southern Pacific’s 1930-era flat cars look much more fragile than the typical 1950’s plastic flat car kit that’s available, and tended to have a very specific look. More importantly, I needed flat cars for the Vasona Branch - lumber coming from the sawmill at Laurel needed to come down the hill to the lumberyard at Auzerais St.

I’d hoped my first-generation Makerbot was going to help me with freight cars, but it couldn’t print something that looked good at HO scale - the layers in the plastic were too obvious. The Makerbot could only print within a 4 inch cube - not big enough for even a smaller flatcar. The Form One, though, was getting big enough. At 125 mm x 125 mm x 165 mm, the printer could print a 36 foot freight car diagonally, or a longer car if I tilted it up on end. So, soon after I’d gotten the Form One up and printing, I tried a couple flat cars. Here’s the details on that first flat car.

The Prototype: Southern Pacific CS-35A Flat Car

In 1903, the Southern Pacific decided to experiment with freight cars built completely of steel. Two plans appeared that year: the CS-35 car (36 feet long with 40 ton capacity) and the CS-35A car (40 feet long, 40 tons). Both these CS (Common Standard) cars represented first attempts at a flat car with a steel under frame: a pair of 15 inch I-beams along the center, and pressed steel sides tied together by a 19 inch deep C-channel. The two designs were apparently in a bake-off; both designs date from October 1903, but only the CS-35A got the green light. SP had 1,000 of the 40 foot cars built by the Pressed Steel Car Co. in Chicago.

The CS-35A, designed during the Harriman era, differed from later flatcars such as the F-50-2 by having only nine stake pockets on each side compared to eleven or twelve on later cars. Other spotting features was the lack of rivets on the bottom edge (unnecessary in the stamped forms of the early cars, but needed in the fabricated side frames of later cars) and twelve rivets on the side at each truck bolster.

These flat cars definitely looked different from the other standard SP freight cars - relatively shallow sides, no truss rods, and longer than most of SP’s flat cars. Compared with modern freight cars, they look positively wispy and fragile. They also lasted a long time, with Tony Thompson’s SP Freight Cars book showing the cars still in common use in the 1920’s, both for revenue service and for maintenance.

Of course, there’s no models of the CS-35A available, whether as a resin kit or plastic model, so it was a great first try for 3d printing.

The Model

The first question was how to build the model - do I try to print the whole freight car in a single piece? I’d seen models on Shapeways where only the metal parts were 3d printed; the wooden deck for the flat car was done with laser cut wood. That seemed great; the wood deck would be more realistic, and I could print the model upside down on the build platform. (That didn’t work; more later.) I tried doing a couple models where only the frame of the flat car was printed, with big openings below. That didn’t work - the printed piece ended up being too thin to print, and wasn’t strong enough to survive removal. I ended up building the model so the top was solid and 6mm thick; the wood deck would be glued onto that surface.

I did the initial drawing for the CS-35 in SketchUp. I started out sketching the rough shape, extruded it as a 6 scale inch thick slab, then started adding details - first the frame and ends, then more and more detail. I scaled the sides so they were 6 inches thick and printed more reliably. For details - stake pockets and patterns of rivets - I often drew the objects in a separate SketchUp model, then made the object into a group and pasted copies into the final model. I learned that 1” diameter cylinders, 1 inch high, made great rivets. I also marked the holes for grab irons by drawing a 1.5 inch diameter hole.

There were also details I didn’t model. I didn’t add brake gear to my initial model. I planned on using wire grab irons, and grabbed brake wheels from my scrap box. I did need to model the brake cylinder for the car; it’s obvious on all the real photos I’ve seen. I started using the Tichy Train Group’s K Brake kit, and bought a half dozen at my local model railroad shop, but found I was only using the brake cylinder. I ended up building a 3d model for the brake cylinder, and printing the brake cylinder myself.

One of my other surprises when building this was the question of what exactly to build. Any model has compromises - I might not want to add all details, or I might need to change a dimension, or I might tweak the model to fit a model railroad coupler. Figuring out these differences between the model and the real thing is the hard part of making a model, whether by hand, with a 3d printer, or when designing an injection-molded kit. For the CS-35A, I had to decide whether to add some of the underbody beams and braces (no), or what detail to add to the ends (minimal.) I also had to choose between scale dimensions and a reliably-printing model. I ended up making the center I-beam much thicker than in real life so it would print more reliably. Instead of 1 inch, I made all the walls 2 inches thick. I also drew it with slopes inside the I so there wasn’t a difficult transition from thin to full-width.

Flat car and support structure. Support structure holds car at 30 degree angle to avoid any horizontal slice through the middle being too large.

I also had hiccups. I had problems printing the final model because of extra hidden faces; I used Netfabb Basic to clean up the models and prepare them for printing. Even that didn’t work reliably. Because of the Form One’s resolution, making a “watertight” model (no holes or gaps between faces) was critical. On the Makerbot, the low resolution meant holes would usually be ignored when breaking the model into layers. With the tinier resolution, even a small hole could convince the Form One software that you intended the model to actually be hollow. I also found that pieces thinner than 2 scale inches (0.020 inches, or 0.5mm) didn’t print reliably. (The design rules from Shapeways for their frosted ultra detail material have similar limitations.) I found I couldn’t print the freight cars flat on the build surface either without layers failing to bond. Formlabs, the maker of the printer, suggests that large flat prints be done at an angle so that any individual printing layer doesn’t cover a large area. Doing so gave me more reliable printing, but doubled print time. I also found I needed to be careful about cleaning the model - I’d been leaving the finished prints in direct sun to cure, but had problems with warping. Keeping time in the sun short, and making sure both sides were exposed to the sun helped limit warping.

Initial model. Note messed up corner caused by deformation when printing near edge. The other cars weren't this bad, but all cars printed with the long edge tipped had a bit of deformation.

The overall process for printing the flat cars was something like this. First, I’d print a couple models over a day or two. Like all the 3d models, I’d pull them out of the printers, remove them from the build platform, and soak them in isopropyl alcohol to wash away the extra resin. I’d remove the support structure added to print the model, then leave the models in the sun for 10-20 minutes on a side. Another day, I’d spray paint the models (Scalecoat boxcar red in a spray can). I’d drill out holes for the screws holding on the trucks and couplers, then attach both with plastic screws, and cut the screws off flush with the top surface. I’d then add a wood deck using individual 2x8 wood boards stained with india ink and alcohol, gluing them on with contact cement. I decaled the cars, then then drilled holes for wires representing grab irons and superglue them in place and touched up the paint on the grab irons. A final spray of Dullcote sealed the decals onto the model.

I made a couple embarrassing mistakes with the model. On my first try, I used the plans in Tony Thompson’s “Southern Pacific Freight Cars” book to build the CS-35 36 foot car. That model turned out well (and the 3d model is available on Thingiverse). When I went to decal the model, I looked for the car numbers for the 36 foot cars… and realized there were none listed - SP never built any. I'd been printing the Loch Ness Monster of SP flatcars.

To correct my mistake, I stretched the design out to make a 40 foot car. In SketchUp, this wasn't too challenging; I'd select the portions of the flat car from the bolster out, then use the move tool to drag these out the appropriate distance. After I printed a few of the longer cars, I compared them against photos, and realized the model didn’t look right - the wheels were set closer to the center of the cars. The CS-35A looked a bit like the ends of the cars were unsupported. I went back to SketchUp, and moved the truck bolsters in.

The final model requires about 15 cubic centimeters of resin and prints in three and a half hours. The resin cost about 15 cents a cubic centimeter, and about half gets lost during printing and cleaning, so we’re talking about $3 in resin per freight car. Compared to Shapeways, which would charge around $30 for a similar part, it’s not a bad deal. On the other hand, I went through a lot of prints for testing - probably 10 to 12 pieces. Once I got the design and printing settings done, it was easy to print more flat car castings on demand.

I still have some minor problems with warping, and the arrangement of the model usually causes one corner to be bent in a bit. Both they’re still fine models,and I’ll be able to make some reasonable 1930’s flat cars for my layout quickly. One potentially big problem is that the models are very light - only about 1.5 ounces with trucks and couplers, much lighter than the recommended 3.5 ounces. I’m planning to either add weight to the loads on the flatcars, or add some lead sheeting in parts of the model.

The Decals I printed and decaled one of the “wrong truck spacing” cars using a mix of leftover details; that process was amazingly painful. I tried finding some commercial decals that had the needed freight car numbers and tiny lettering, but didn’t find any good sheets at my hobby shop. I ended up deciding that custom decals might be reasonable, especially if I was going to build ten cars.

I drew up the artwork in Intaglio (a vector drawing program like Adobe Illustrator). I tried using Ben Coifman’s Railroad Roman font which I’d bought years ago, but its lettering looked a bit thinner than the stock SP lettering style. I ended up doing half the sheet using the Baskerville font available on the Mac which resembled the SP lettering, but had thicker letters. The bolder glyphs should make it easier to read the cars in my dark garage.

I sent the decals off to Rail Graphics; my 1 inch by 4 inch decal sheet cost $50 for a run of 50 decals, each with enough lettering to cover a few cars. The finest 2 inch tall lettering isn’t legible, but all the other lettering was readable and fine for my cars.

I’d never seen any hints on making custom decals, but designing my first sheet gave me a few lessons. First and most important, I made sure that the car numbers included a bunch of optional numbers that matched the real cars. For my CS-35A cars, car numbers would have been between 78500 and 79499. I added several numbers starting with 78/79, and also made sure that numbers starting with 48, 49, and 40 existed in case I wanted to do some of the other SP flat cars. I added several different car lengths and weight capacities so I could do some of the alternates. I also added the SPMW lettering in case I wanted to model any of the maintenance of way cars seen in photos.

I didn’t think about the difficulty of cutting the decal apart. The lettering on these decals was remarkably tiny; I had to borrow my wife’s Optivisor to be able to cut them apart. I put the “feature” lettering - “dirt collector”, “metal brake beam”, etc. on a single line, so it was easy to cut a strip out, then break out the individual words. For the other lettering such as the reweigh information, I did a lot of cutting out individual words. I wish I’d put most of the data for a single kind of car on a single line so I could cut that line off the decal sheet, then cut the individual pieces off separately.

Oh, and if you decal one car by hand before doing the custom decals, don’t use that number on the decal sheet.

The Final Models

So far, I’ve built six of these cars - two of the non-existent 36’ CS-35 cars, one of the CS-35A cars with the wrong truck spacing, and three of the 40’ CS-35A cars with the correct truck spacing. I also have one model that I had printed by Shapeways in Frosted Detail (the lower-quality.) They’re fine cars for my layout. They look positively fragile next to the chunkier Athearn 40 foot flat cars, and I also know that they’re historically accurate.

What’s next? I also like the look of the SP F-50-4 cars, with their narrow sides but prominent center beam. I’ll show more of my progress on those later. I’m also seeing about building models of the W-50-3 Hart convertible gondolas used in ballast service. Keep your fingers crossed that I can print those reliably.

And finally, let's check out the cars in action:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Most Excellent Detail Casting

I'm still working towards that article on the 3d-printed flat cars. I've printed a bunch of the flat cars over the last month, and currently have seven on the layout. There's a couple of the "extremely rare" and in fact never-built CS-35 36' flat cars, a couple of 40' cars that I built from a stretched model. As I was decaling one, I realized I'd messed up the truck spacing; the true 40' cars set the wheels closer to the center than I'd modeled. After another tweak to the design, I've got two with the correct truck spacing too.

The printed models aren't necessarily a big win over buying commercial cars, nor are they museum-quality; I'm not looking for perfection, just some recognizable models that I can't get elsewhere. Each one of the flat cars requires some finishing and painting. Then the wood deck needs to be stained and glued on, details like the grab irons and brake wheels need to be added. Finally, the cars need to be decaled.

Today's story, though, is about the detailing part. I haven't been putting elaborate brake detail on these cars, but the old-fashioned K-style brake cylinder is a pretty visible detail and worth adding. I had been buying the Tichy plastic brake gear detail kits, but (1) I kept buying out the Train Shop's stock, and (2) at some point paying $3 to grab one little casting seemed wasteful, especially if I want a bunch of cars.

Hey, wait, don't I have a 3d printer?

So, I tried it - took some guesses at measurements, drew something up over a couple hours in SketchUp, and printed it. And it worked - the Form One did a most excellent job on a tiny brake cylinder.

So I upped the detail, adding bolt heads and even the very fine piston rod and clevis. I printed all these at the 0.025" setting on the Form One. A few hours later, I had a dozen brake cylinders, ready for the next set of cars. The photos are worth sharing; if I ever had any doubts about whether the Form One would help me in modeling, this particular piece convinced me. Zoom in to see that the clevis fork printed (though only half printed fully), and notice the bolt detail both around the top of the cylinder, and on the mounting plate at the back of the model.

As a modeler that buys a fair number of detail parts, these brake cylinders completely change the game - I'm no longer dependent on what's available from the store or what's in stock, but instead on what I can manage to draw in a 3d program.

For the folks who are curious how I drew the brake cylinder:

The first step was to get some rough measurements off one of the commercial parts and off official drawings. Once I had rough shapes, I drew a 2d cross-section of the piece's shape, and drew a circle the size of the cylinder bottom in SketchUp. Once I had these, SketchUp's "Follow Me" tool allowed me to drag that cross section around the circle, making what the high school geometry teachers might call a surface of rotation. That gave me the rough 3d object; I extruded 1" diameter, 1" tall cylinders wherever I wanted bolts. The clevis fork was similarly extruding a circle from the cylinder top, then sketching the rectangular shapes on top of that to make the clevis.

The hardest part was the mounting plate on the top of the cylinder. I did this by drawing a 10x16" x 2" thick block, and moving it so it sat on top of the cylinder. Now, this doesn't work so hot because SketchUp doesn't like figuring out the intersections between curved and flat surfaces, so it just leaves the top half of the cylinder inside the block. To make a 3d-printable shape, I deleted the top face of the mounting plate and drew extra edges at the intersection between the round and square faces, then deleted the parts of the cylinder that were stuck inside the plate.

That's pretty sweet work on a part that's less than 3/4" long, and only around 1/8" in diameter. And that part is starting to get to injection molded quality. Tichy's part is a little finer,includes the Westinghouse logo and cylinder size cast right on the side, and its ABS probably can take a bit more abuse than the Form Labs resin. On the negative side, when I look at the commercial part with a magnifying glass (and I'm using that magnifying glass a lot these days), it's easy to see that the mold was misaligned, and the two halves of the part didn't match up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

3d Models Available

And if any of you out in blog-reader land are curious about what a 3d model is like, you've now got a chance. I've put some of the 3d designs for things I've been describing here up on the Thingiverse web site. In addition to that 1920's strip mall I built a couple years back, there's now a 3d model for the CS-35 36 foot flat car and for the drying flats.

Each model also has the SketchUp file, so you can modify the design to your heart's content.

Have fun with the models, and let me know if you make anything interesting based on these designs!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

SP Concrete Telephone Booths: The Results

I decided against redoing the design of the telephone booths - the existing models were quite good enough for my layout. Even the ones where the individual flat faces were visible weren't that bad. And, thanks to 3d printing, I've also got around 15 telephone booths finished and painted when I only needed... oh, maybe two. So, no work on a better door, no improvements to hinges. But I've got finished models. One's already in at the far end of the Glenwood siding and looks great!

SP modelers, expect me to be handing out phone booths as party favors for the next couple months.

Friday, August 15, 2014

I'm Un-Friending Burrito Justice

Normally, I'm a big fan of Burrito Justice, a San Francisco blogger who spends equal time talking about burritos, fog, Sutro Tower, Mission District happenings, and San Francisco history. His posts on the SP's route through the Mission are definitely worth a read. But then his big-city parochialism appears. In the latest article on the stringing of the first telegraph line from San Francisco to San Jose, he makes the sarcastic comment:
Another way of looking at it — the people of San Francisco were so isolated they actually got excited about talking to people IN SAN JOSE. I mean, that’s pretty isolated.
I could make a smart-ass comment about that's just the sort of comment you'd get from folks who live in fog and don't eat enough prunes, but that would just be sinking to his level.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

3d Printing: Not for the Claustrophobic

When I was a kid, I loved exploring - climbing the big cypress near our house and finding paths to the top, or figuring out ways to reach the roof of our house. I even crawled under our house a couple times, and only once because my dad needed help getting the TV antenna wire under the house. That kind of fun stuff isn't just for kids. I remember when my aunt first started using a computer, she was playing a 3d game and managed to get into a place that was *just outside* the virtual world. Suddenly, she was seeing the back side of all the scenery and models, and could see how the scenery is constructed.

I'm getting to do that crawling around and exploring with 3d modeling too. SketchUp, my favorite tool for 3d modeling, started as an architectural sketching tool. Although it can do three-dee models, one weakness is that it doesn't always make perfect models suitable for printing. Most 3d printers expect the model to be watertight: no holes in the faces making up the model, or gaps between faces. Most 3d printers also expect that there's no hidden faces embedded inside the model. These two requirements are needed so the various algorithms for figuring out the 3d shape can figure out what counts as inside the model, and what counts as outside. One of the simplest ways to determine inside/outside is to draw a line through the model, and count the walls you encounter. If you find an odd number, then your end point is inside the model; even, and you're outside. Extra faces and holes mean the software loses track of the model shape, and you end up with a model with either odd faces, or even odder parts missing. SketchUp doesn't enforce either of those rules, and while there's software to check and fix models for you, it's a pain to have to use the external tools to do a sanity check after each bit of creative drawing.

That means my three-d modeling habit involves a lot of what I did as a kid: crawling around in strange places looking for signs of extra faces that should have been deleted. The picture at the top shows the 3d model of the telephone booth model in SketchUp. I've deleted the faces making up the bottom surface of the model, but you can see the outer wall, the hollow inner surface (light gray), as well as all the inner surfaces marking the limits of where the printing material goes (in light blue). On the left is the reverse image of the doorway; the four cylinders sticking out are actually the ventilation holes on the right side of the model. Although the original model only took about 90 minutes to draw, probably half that time was trying to fix faces that were either on the hollow inside, or were incorrect faces on the inside of the model.

So if you ask me what 3d printing means to me, it means an awful lot of crawling around in confined spaces. Good thing I'm not claustrophobic.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

SP Concrete Telephone Booths

Here's the result of that laser light show - a lot of Southern Pacific concrete telephone booths. These were placed out at the ends of sidings out in the boonies, and gave the crews a way to contact the dispatcher in the days before radio.

These are great models for 3d printing - they're small, geometrically simple, annoying to scratch build, and rare enough so they're unlikely to be at the hobby shop. (To be fair, there are two manufacturers making the more modern versions of these, so I'm exaggerating a bit... but you get the idea - little, railroad specific details like this are perfect for 3d printing.) I'm not even the first one printing these; someone's selling 3d-printed N scale models on the Shapeways site. Building the 3d model in SketchUp took probably an hour and a half, and I was looking at finished models later that evening. There are even plans and drawings available in the Common Standard Plans books.

3d printing really comes into its own when you need a bunch of these. As the video showed, printing twelve of these wasn't a stretch. The first run had one obvious problem - SketchUp, because it's intended for architectural models, draws curves surfaces as a set of flat facets. By default, it uses 24 faces for a cylinder, or six faces for a 90 degree turn. On the first models, I could see the pattern on the model. Redoing the model with 48 faces/cylinder appears to make surface look perfectly curved. (Hint: when drawing a circle, type "48s" in the text box at the bottom of the window to change a circle to 48 sides.) Even with that problem, the models came out awfully nice, with the doors crisp, and some added coarse detail for hinges, latch, and handle all being visible under the magnifying glass. The models did get the characteristic vent holes in the door, though it's hard to see on the model. Although the upper panel in the door looks solid, it's glass in the real model. Rather than create an opening, I'm planning to paint the panel gloss black to look like glass.

And so now I've got something like 24 telephone booths, when I need maybe four on my layout.

I printed these telephone booths upside down. Because I print the model hollow, printing it from the bottom up would have trapped resin in the body; printing upside down gives the resin a chance to escape. The photo shows the support structure added by the 3d printer to handle the uneven surface; I cut off the support with diagonal cutters and finish with an x-acto knife and file.

Even though I've got twenty-four phone booths, they're not quite right. The second version got rid of the stair-step pattern and made the door more obvious, having it stick out two inches instead of one for better definition. Looking at real photos also shows some problems. This photo, for example, shows strap hinges. It's also obvious that the door's set back into the concrete cylinder. That little detail would be worth adding, but doing so would add the challenge of trying to highlight the separation between the door and the frame. That's the sort of decision that folks worry about in mass-production: what do you need to do to make the detail stand out, or make it easy to paint the model, or make it easy to build? (Think of the exaggerated detail of hood doors on diesel locomotives.) While setting the door and frame into the cylinder is realistic, I'd need to add a line between door and frame that'll need to be out of scale.

I also have to figure out how to finish them appropriately. I'm suspecting I'll be giving these out as party favors for a while, so figuring out to mass-paint a bunch of these would be a big win. I'm out of my normal concrete-gray spray can, so I'll show some painted models after my next trip to the hobby shop. I'm also starting to run out of my favorite Polly-S colors now that Testors stopped making the railroad colors, so I suspect I'll be in the market for new railroad paints soon.

Coming soon: the 3d flat cars are still going; I've tweaked the designs a couple times to match photos, and I've painted and decaled one. Because I had very few spare sets of decals with 1930's weights and dimensions, that decaling was painfully fiddly. Because I know I'm going to print at least 6 or 7 flatcars, I'm hoping to custom-print decals to make the job go faster. More news later...