Dry Creek Models: News Updates about our models, and stories about building 3d printed freight cars

Hart Gons in Use on the Pacific Electric

I'd mentioned in the past that the Pacific Electric had Hart W-50-3 gondolas running through the 1940's. This photo, from the November 1944 Pacific Electric employee newsletter (available from the Metropolitan Transportation Administration's archive website) shows a Hart gondola being used in ballast service in 1944. (Click through to the full newsletter; the article has several pictures on track improvements along the mostly-freight West Basin line.
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The photo doesn't show the car dumping ballast; instead the caption reads "gravel train backs up and spreads dumped ballast". The crews used the Hart cars to dump a foot of gravel between the track. However, they still had to push the pile around to get it between the tracks. The temporary wooden boards at rail level (with undetermined bracing) looks awfully flimsy, but it must have worked!

Brake Gear and Hart Gondolas

Brakes and Hart Gondolas

When I did the initial research for the Hart convertible gondolas, I was able to find great drawings of the car bodies, but little on the brake equipment. The California State Railroad Museum has a few drawings of the W-50-3 gondola, all with beautiful detail. There was no information either about the routing of the brake rodding, or details about pipelines and fittings.

The current Hart gondola kit instructions suggest a possible “simplified” brake rigging for modelers who want to get this detail perfect. On my own cars, I added this “simplified” brake gear on about half the cars, but did minimal detail on the others. My layout, after all, is an operating layout, and having cars that work smoothly and don’t hang up matters more to me than having contest models.

I know many others who want their cars to be perfect, right down to the brake gear. Luckily, I found another source for information about these cars. The SP’s W-50-3 happens to be a “Common Standard” design, shared between the different Harriman-owned railroads through the ‘teens, so the Union Pacific or Pacific Electric also had the cars.

California State Railroad Museum’s collection of Union Pacific blueprints gave the missing link. UP’s “Air Brake Folio (dated March 5, 1919, book 430, drawing 5242-30) had schematic drawings of many cars. That drawing of the W-50-3 brake gear highlights exactly how the rodding was placed.
UP brake rodding
There’s some key details worth noting if you want to install prototypical brake rodding:
1) Note that the brake cylinder end attaches to a chain that goes around a pulley before stretching to the brake wheel. On all the Southern Pacific cars I’ve seen, no such pulley exists; the brake wheel pulls a chain directly connected to the brake cylinder.

2) The 11’ 7” rod behind the brake cylinder is interesting; on the real cars, it had to pass through holes in two gussets attaching the Hart truss to the car floor.

3) The pivot point behind the brake cylinder does appear on the real cars as a pair of steel straps in a V design holding the pivot end of the brake rod. This pivot support isn’t easily seen in all photos, but the builder’s photo of Pacific Electric 6000 in Tony Thompson’s “Southern Pacific Freight Cars” book shows the support faintly.

If you'd like to put full brake gear on your SP W-50-3 Hart convertible gondola, here's how the rodding would fit on the car body. w-50-3 brake rodding

The UP’s “Air Brake Folio (dated March 5, 1919, book 430, drawing 5242-30) is available at the California State Railroad Museum; the image of the blueprint is on microfilm.

Hart Gondolas on the Pacific Electric

If you look at the original plans for the SP’s W-50-3 Hart convertible gondola up at the California State Railroad Museum, you’ll see a little emblem, tricked out by the draftsman: “Common Standard”. That little emblem highlights this car as part of a modern tradition started by Collis Huntington in the 1890’s: standardizing the freight cars between different shops and subsidiaries. Common Standard designs started as an SP invention so that repair shops across the system would have parts and know-how to repair cars built at other shops. When Edward Harriman took over the SP in 1901, Harriman brought the Common Standard design to all the roads under his control. For the Hart gondola, that meant that the W-50-3 ballast gondola wasn’t just a Southern Pacific design; the same cars went to the Union Pacific, Oregon Short Line, and even to the Pacific Electric. These cars all started out identical, but diverged slightly as the Harriman empire broke up, and as each railroad customized the cars to their needs.

The Pacific Electric’s Hart convertible gondolas were exact matches to the SP W-50-3 gondolas as they were built by the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific. These cars were initially numbered 6400-6449, but quickly changed to 6200-6249 by 1914. The equipment diagram for the cars (shown in Ira Swett’s Cars of the Pacific Electric vol. 3, 2nd edition) show a car with identical dimensions to the SP’s cars. Unlike the SP cars, the PE cars kept their side dump doors. A photo of car #6241 in Swett’s book shows the PE car at the end of its life: side dump doors still opening, latches on alternate doors, and the like. A separate photo in Thompson’s “Southern Pacific Freight Cars” shows a swaybacked string of Hart gondolas still in use in the late 1940’s; another photo (from the MTA archives) shows a Hart gondola in West Hollywood’s Sherman Shop complex, ready with a load of ballast.
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The surviving photos do suggest two differences. The original cars SP had vertical handholds on each corner of the car. PE’s cars, as seen in a 1912 photo, instead show a horizontal grab iron on the sides about 14 inches above the floor of the car. By 1950, the PE added a second handhold on the side sill.

The other significant difference involves the wheels. As seen in the builder's photo in SP Freight Cars, the Pacific Electric gondolas were built with arch bar trucks. Later photos shows the cars with the same arch bars. These trucks differed from the arch bar trucks we normally see on HO models. Rather than having a bottom bar that sloped up from the bolster to the journal boxes, the bottom bar of these trucks was parallel to the rail.

If you’re a Pacific Electric modeler and want a string of Hart gondolas for your maintenance of way crew, the “SP car as built” model is nearly identical to the PE’s actual car. Omit the vertical handholds, and drill holes for the four new grab irons on each side. Note that our SP W-50-3 gondola kit contains some PE lettering on its decal sheet, but doesn't include the white Pacific Electric logo seen on 1940's freight cars. We don't know a good HO wheel set for those arch bar trucks, but suspect any of the commercial arch bar trucks would still look good under the car.

For more information:

Ed Workman, Common Standard Freight Cars: Pt. 1. In Union Pacific Historical Society Streamliner magazine, vol 11(4), 1997.

Ira Swett, “Cars of the Pacific Electric”, volume 3. Interurban Press, 1975. Diagram of the Pacific Electric 6200 series gondolas, and photo of car 6241 in the 1940’s.

Tony Thompson, “Southern Pacific Freight Cars Volume 1”. Photo of PE car in 1912 and another of a string of swaybacked gondolas in the 1940’s.

How About Those Notches?

One of the fun parts of turning a bunch of 3d plans… or photos… of freight cars into a model is understanding some of the details of the design. For example, the plans for the W-50-3 Hart convertible gondolas showed some notches in the beams running through the hopper bottom. What were those for?

Some small print on the plans explains it: "5" x 9" removable center sill Dwg. No C-1852". The doors covering the hopper were wood, reinforced with metal strips, and weren't strong enough to support a full load on their own. A thirty foot 5" x 9" beam (or maybe two beams, one stretching to each end of the car) sat underneath, on top of the cross-beams, acted as support for the doors. One of the end drawings also helpfully notes that the sill would be stored behind the doors when the hopper doors were opened.

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The engineering drawings for the real cars were filled with little details like this - the use of angle iron on the side dump doors, use of a bolt and a short piece of pipe to keep the door latch from swinging all the way around, and the U-bolts serving as hinges for the side dump doors. Building the 3d model for these cars requires tracking down all those details, and figuring out how to represent the visible ones on the model.

Engineering drawing excerpt from Southern Pacific Common Standard plan C-1652 "Work Car Class W-50-3", in the collection of the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. If you're obsessed about these cars as much as I am, call them up and ask about getting a copy of the full plan for yourself.

Open for Business!

Hi, all, and thanks for checking Dry Creek Models out! The freight car kits you see represent a year of work. I've experimented to learn how to get good 3d printed freight cars from the Form One printer. I've made multiple trips to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento to see original plans. I've studied plans and photos to understand how the cars were really put together. I've also made many, many versions of each model - my layout (and reject pile) are overflowing with flat cars and Hart gondolas! I'm most excited that I can have a full train of Hart gondolas on my layout... and then share those models with all you other early 20th century modelers.

Beyond just sharing some great freight cars with you all, I'm hoping to share two lessons from these models.

The first lesson of all this work is that 3d printing gives us another way to get prototypical models on our layouts. In the 1960's, our only three choices for models was a plastic boxcar, a craftsman kit, or a long episode of scratch building. Fidelity to the prototype was less important than just getting a car that worked; getting multiple, accurate cars was near-impossible. In the 1980's, resin kits gave us detailed and accurate kits, but required tons of fiddly work to assemble flat cast resin cars. With 3d printing, we can now get accurate prototypes, and get cars that are easy to complete. For cars that often showed up in groups (like gondolas and flat cars), model railroaders need ways of getting ten accurate cars quickly. 3d printing allows us to do that. 3d printing also allows making models that could never be done using conventional casting techniques. The underframe trusses on the Hart gondola could never be done in a single piece in the correct position in either injection-molded plastic, or resin cast in rubber molds.

The second lesson is that 3d printing is now mainstream. Although the Form One isn't cheap, it's still in the range that many modelers could buy one. The models you see here show how the barriers for mass-producing models in your basement are going down. You don't need to know how to cut molds for casting plastic or be a superior craftsman to make cast resin cars. Watch for a lot of very cool cars coming out of garage manufacturers in the next few years.

In future blog updates, I'll tell you more about how these cars are built and share some new models. If you'd like to see what I'm up to on my own, check out my personal projects at the Vasona Branch blog.


Robert Bowdidge