MP Caboose #509

This caboose was running out of the Avondale yard in Avondale, Louisiana back when I caught these views of it. Labeled as a Terminal Cab, I didn’t know exactly what its service was, assuming it was perhaps used for transfers around New Orleans. But I did see it several times just parked around in or near the diesel shop.

I’ve searched for other photographs of this car or others like it, but to no avail. It has several features that stand out as different from other similar cabooses. Note the end of the roof, closed in rather than open. Also note the absence of ribs on the roof. The windows in the cupola are different, a separated pair on the sides rather than a single large, sliding arrangement. The end windows are also narrower. Note that the running board on the roof is still in place, along with the handrail extension of the ladder. And the car number is quite low. I have wondered if this car was originally of wooden construction and later rebuilt with metal siding.

MP Caboose #509 at shop in Avondale, LA
Caboose #509 parked at the diesel shop at Avondale yard
MP Caboose #509 in yard at Avondale, LA
Right at dusk, caboose #509 is seen on the end of a train at Avondale yard

I don’t know the dates that I recorded these images . . . they were scanned from slides that unfortunately drowned in a flood in 2016. But they were likely taken either in late 1970 or early 1971.

I didn’t often ride in cabooses back then (mostly rode the locomotives). But I do remember two distinct differences in the cupolas. A few had two seats on each side, with the pairs facing each other. The other cabs (as they were called on the MOP/TP) had a single seat on each side which rotated to face the direction of travel. The windows on this caboose suggest it has the twin seats.

If anyone can fill in any of the blanks, please don’t hesitate to comment.

Camp Cars – Part 2

Continuing our tour of the Santa Fe work train in Iden, New Mexico, Jack Delano has made his way to the dining facilities. As we saw last week, the berthing facilities and commissary were rather stark, though functional. The kitchen and dining room follow suit.

Below is the view of a cook preparing the dough for bread. The work area is rather austere, but everything needed seems to be close at hand. Baking powder and various other ingredients line the shelves, along with the ever-present cigar box, possibly containing the “secret ingredient” (what would railroaders do without cigar boxes?). Note the wash stand in the foreground . . . a bowl of water and bar of soap. It must be pre-dawn, as the cook is working under the light of a Coleman lantern.

Inside an AT&SF Kitchen Car

And below is the view inside the dining room. It must be near the end of the meal period, as only a few workers are left. I would assume that these folks ate a pretty hearty breakfast considering the hard work ahead of them each day. Unlike the military, it appears that a busboy was employed to pick up the worker’s dishes at the end of the meal.

Inside an AT&SF Dining Car

Photographs by Jack Delano, March, 1943.

Camp Cars – Part 1

During his trip out west on the Santa Fe in March of 1943, Jack Delano’s train had a stop in Iden, New Mexico. Iden is located between Clovis and Vaughn, and is rather isolated. A few weeks ago we saw a photograph of a section gang doing some track alignment in Iden. While there Mr. Delano also recorded some images of the camp cars of the work train that the workers were assigned to.

The scene below is inside one of the bunk cars where these men rested when off duty. It’s not too fancy, but does have heat, along with a table and chair(s). At least one kerosene lamp is visible over one of the bunks. And speaking of bunks, those look virtually identical to the ones I enjoyed while employed by the Marines back in the ’60s . . . some things didn’t change much between those decades! 🙂

Inside an AT&SF Bunk Car

And below we have the commissary car. Here workers could acquire the various supplies needed during their stay in this remote area. Just about any clothing was available, from head to toe. And one could buy toothpaste and a brush, medical supplies such as Bayer aspirin, Ex-Lax and Vicks, and more. For comfort, you had a choice of pipes and a variety of tobaccos, or cigarettes (Lucky Strike seems to be the brand most often purchased). And if you had the time, you could enjoy a few games using the Bicycle playing cards. The store’s clerk is Mr. J.E. Straight of Newton, Kansas.

Inside an AT&SF Commissary Car

More on Roundhouse Flooring

Before I get into the subject, I’d like to comment on a couple other blog related things.  Back in March this blog was hacked (apparently an attempt to use the blog to distribute spam).  Fortunately my web host detected that a bunch of files had been changed, so they “froze” the site.  I ended up having to re-install the blog software to get things back to normal.  It really wasn’t hard to do, but it did take some time.  At the same time I took steps to harden the site so hopefully it won’t happen again.

The second item concerns the New Post Notifications that are sent out to subscribers when I pen a new morsel for your consumption.  The plug-in that handles that is several years outdated, and the author apparently isn’t interested in keeping it current.  Therefore I elected to try another plug-in (Mail Poet) and hopefully I have it set up correctly.  If you experience a problem, please drop me a line and I’ll try to get it straight.  Or if you just happened to check the blog and saw this post (but didn’t receive an email notification that it was here), please let me know about that too.

OK, on to the topic at hand: roundhouse floors.  Several years ago I had a post in which I was pondering the different floors used in roundhouses.  That led to a nice discussion, but not on the blog.  Instead it was just a bunch of emails back and forth between me and a few friends.  One of the floor types that I mentioned at the time (and one which I had not heard of prior to then) was a series of wooden blocks set on end to create the floor.  Several of you sent me some photo examples of this.  From what I gather, this type of floor was rather common, not only in railroad facilities, but also in other industrial applications, particularly where heavy and/or bulky material and equipment was being handled.  My impression is that the floor is easy on things laid or dropped upon it, and is easy to repair if necessary.

The photo below was taken by Jack Delano back in the ’40s, and it clearly shows this wood block flooring inside a Chicago and Northwestern roundhouse.  You can click on the photo to get an enlarged view.


Mr. Delano took many photos of railroad subjects back then, and there is currently a book available with a nice selection of his work.

As usual, comments are appreciated.

As another aside, the recovery of my home from the flood last August is finally hitting full stride.  The drywall is up and finished, cabinet work has begun, and I am finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel!


Tracing the Louisiana Central

This past Friday Wayne Robichaux and I took another field trip. This excursion was a repeat of an earlier trip in which we had “followed” the Louisiana Central from it’s beginnings near the east bank of the Mississippi River, to it’s eastern terminus at Bude, Mississippi.  That trip was made in the dead of winter so that we would be able to see better into the terrain.  Friday’s trip found the landscape in full summer greenery.  While it was considerably more difficult to see beyond the edge of the road in places, the look is more akin to the way the modeled scenery will look as I will be placing the time period in the summer.

We were able to precisely discern several of the locations where I’d taken photographs several years ago.  However several other scenes I’d previously photographed were hard to identify this go-around due to the extensive foliage and because of the passage of time.  I re-shot many of the scenes as a comparison, but didn’t discover anything “new”.  While there are way too many photos to post here, you can see the original collection on the website.

We broke off late in the afternoon and headed over to McComb, where we caught the northbound Amtrak train, with a northbound CN freight hot on his heels.  As most of you know, a local railroad museum makes its home in the depot at McComb.  Outside, a former Illinois Central Mountain steam locomotive, along with a few cars, are on display under a shelter roof.  We were pleased to see that an extension of the train shelter is well under construction.  This will place the recently acquired passenger cars on display under shelter as well.  After checking things out, we drove south on Highway 51 to Hammond where we caught one additional train before heading back west to home.  It was an enjoyable day!

Progress on the layout was a bit light this past weekend, but I did manage to assemble a few more car kits.  I also painted a new rack I’m making that will hold Dremel bits.  Oh, and I finally got started on those code 70 turnout DCC modifications that I’ve talked about several times in the past.  I’ve got a pair ready for installation on the layout now.  If anyone shows any interest, I’ll have to take a few photos showing what I’ve done with them.


The Field Trip Bonus

Wayne Robichaux accompanied me for part of my field trip last weekend.  We decided to head north up Hwy. 51 for a look at things between Hammond and Tangipahoa, Louisiana.  While we didn’t notice any older trestles or bridges to photograph, we did come across this old abandoned fuel oil dealership located a bit south of Amite.  This caught my eye as I plan to have a couple of these facilities on my new layout, one each at Monterey and Willis.

I took quite a few photos around the premises and thought I’d share a few of them here.

Here’s the overall view looking south east at the facility.  That’s a bi-level platform on the front of the building.  The CN mainline is about 25 feet behind my right shoulder.Fuel Oil Dealer - Looking Southeast

And looking east we see the loading shed for the trucks.  That’s the main pump house at right.  Note the small tank end in the distance.  This tank was separated from the three main tanks.Fuel Oil Dealer - Loading Shed

The loading shed detail:  the piping from each of the tanks rises next to the platform.  Each has a flow meter on it, then a hose and nozzle for filling the delivery trucks.  Note the supports for the missing signage at the roof ridge.Fuel Oil Dealer Shed Close-up

And finally, an overall view looking north east:  Visible here is the concrete dam built around the tank farm to contain any spillage.Fuel Oil Dealer Looking Northeast

This will aid tremendously in arranging at least one of my facilities.  Since the pumps and piping were still in place, I was able to discern the literal “flow” of the business.  My theory is that if you want to model a business or industry convincingly, you must understand the process or the flow of the business so that you can logically place the structure(s) and supporting elements.

As an added bonus to the day, we had six trains pass by while we were trackside (all duly recorded on silicon).  Taking a break from layout construction to do a little railfanning and research was what I needed.


A Field Trip

Most of my readers are aware of the Canadian National (former Illinois Central) line that runs east from Baton Rouge to the connection with the north-south mainline in Hammond.  This line has been under an upgrade project for some time now, with lots of tie replacement, plenty of new ballast, and most significantly, the replacement of all the small wooden bridges and trestles to concrete and steel structures.  I had made a note to myself some time ago that I needed to photograph some of the old wooden trestles before they were demolished.  On a recent trip over to Hammond, I had driven down Hwy. 190 which parallels the line for much of it’s length.  I was shocked that only about a half dozen wooden structures remained, and those were grouped in a rather small area just west of Livingston.

So, this past weekend I grabbed the camera and set out to document these last few hold-outs while they still exist.  My aim was to not only document the structure, but to take some close up shots that I could use for detailing and creosoting (painting) these same structures on my own layout.  Here are a couple samples from the 60 or so images that I grabbed.

This is typical of the trestles left, a few are a bit shorter:CN Trestle

And a close-up view of a couple bents:CN Trestle Detail

This is a small “bridge” (actually, more like a big wooden box culvert):CN Bridge

Note the variations of color and texture on the wing walls:CN Bridge Detail

The day was clear and bright and I over exposed a bit because I wanted to get some of the color and detail beneath the trestles.  It is very apparent why most models painted flat black don’t look much like creosoted structures after you study these images.  Not only are the many colors apparent, black, grays, tans, etc., but the textures and streaking are very pronounced.  This should be interesting to try to simulate.

More later…


Forging Ahead

While my medical woes are still ongoing, I manage to get some work done each weekend on the layout.  This past weekend I even got a nice chunk of sub-roadbed installed; the mainline heading west out of Willis yard.  It was satisfying to cut wood again and assemble risers and sub-roadbed.  As is my habit, I topped the plywood sub-roadbed with a layer of Homasote.  Track can now be laid here.

I’ve pretty much finalized the layout for all of the controls panels that I spoke of in the previous post.  I’m going to build a “test” panel and verify that I’m satisfied with the design.  I’m still toying around with the method that I will use to mount the panels to the fascia.  The test panel will be helpful in my experiments with that.

With winter just around the corner, I’ve been giving thought to making a couple field trips.  I’d like to once again travel the planned route of the Louisiana Central to grab a few more photos.  Wayne Robichaux and I have already done this a couple times back when I was planning the layout.  We tentatively laid out the track route on a map, then set out to see how closely we could actually follow that route.  We made tweaks to the route on the map as we traveled, and the plan came out rather well.  You can take a photographic journey of this route on the main website.

The other field trip I’d like to take is to the Southern Forest Heritage Museum up in Long Leaf.  This museum features the former Crowell Long Leaf Lumber Company’s mill operation.  I’ve written about this place in an earlier post, and I love to visit there.  The Spencer Lumber Company on my layout will be loosely based on the Crowell mill.  I don’t plan to model the specific structures at Long Leaf, but seeing and understanding the operation and the flow of the work will aid me in laying out a reasonable mill site on my layout.  I’ve already taken dozens of photos, but want many more.

As always, give me a holler if you’d like to visit or if you have any questions.


The Spencer Logging Operation

One of the featured industries on the layout will be the logging operation of the Spencer Lumber Company.  Spencer’s mill will be located at the town of Oneida (on one of the layout’s peninsulas), and will be patterned somewhat loosely on the real-life mill of the former Crowell Long Leaf Lumber Company.  The Crowell facility still lives as a museum here in Louisiana and I wrote a little piece about it in the blog post The Southern Forest Heritage Museum back in June of 2011.

The Crowell property has all the pieces in place for one to photograph and study, and while I can’t model the facility literally due to space constraints, it will at least allow me to include the vital infrastructure necessary for a lumber mill.  Once you understand the work-flow and the function of the various buildings, planning a “correct” model should be much easier.

However, the other part of the operation – the actual harvesting of the timber – had me scratching my head.  I have a nice run from the mill up to the logging area, which even includes a double switchback, and I have a loading area at the top.  But the space is so limited, especially in depth, that I just didn’t have any idea how I was going to model any sort of reasonable logging activity.  A few weeks ago I spied a copy of Kalmbach’s book, The Model Railroader’s Guide to Logging Railroads, so I purchased it.  In general it is a nice book, with a good description of all the various facets of the logging industry.  Admittedly if falls far short of being the definitive volume that one needs to pull off such a modeling endeavor; that would take many volumes to accomplish.  However there was one short section in the book that provided me with my salvation.  In short, it was the “reload” operation.  This was a situation where trucks were used to haul the logs out of the woods, and to a reloading point where the logs were transferred from the trucks to the railhead.  This became very common in the later years of railroad logging operations (which I will be modeling in 1964) as trucks and equipment were better able to penetrate into the forest.  In fact, this method often became more economical than re-laying track to all the various cutting sites.  This idea will be perfect for my line.  All I need do is add some kind of loader at the high end (a McGiffert or a Barnhart) and I’ll be in business.

While the logging operation won’t be the biggest traffic generator on the layout, I think it will be the most interesting, and I look forward to actually building it.


Roundhouse Doors and Floors

I enjoy thinking ahead about some of my model railroad projects that will be down the road a bit.  Frequently I try to work out all or most of the details way ahead of the actual construction.  Or sometimes I just think about concepts and mull over different approaches to the project.  And some things, I just think about how I would like it to function or look, but don’t go much further than that.

Recently on the Model Railroad Hobbyist forum, there was a bit of discussion concerning roundhouse floors.  While I think most of us assume that their floors are concrete, the prevailing thought in the discussion thread was that back in the steam era, concrete wasn’t the dominant floor type.  Some of the things folks mentioned were dirt and/or cinder floors, brick or stone pavers and large wooden block pieces that were put down with the end grain facing up.  I had not heard of that type floor before.

I’ll have a small roundhouse on the Louisiana Central, and before reading that MRH thread, I just assumed I would be using a concrete floor in it.  But now I’m having second thoughts.  The roundhouse will be located in a small town in southern Mississippi (near the actual town of Gloster).  Any of you “old timers” remember seeing the interior of older roundhouses that were still in service in the 50s and 60s?  I’ve been in several roundhouses and rectangular engine houses, but with the exception of a few, don’t remember anything about the flooring.  I remember an engine house I saw up in north Louisiana that had a dirt floor in most of it, and some wood plank flooring along one side where some machinery resided.  And I remember the steam era engine house that used to be in the GSA depot at North Sharp in Baton Rouge (where the bauxite was stored for many years).  It had a concrete floor.

And speaking of roundhouses, I’ve seen a couple (down here in the South) that had no doors on the engine stalls.  Was this done commonly in the South, or was it somewhat of an exception?

Anyone?  Feedback would be appreciated.


Planning the Louisiana Central Right-of-Way

The Louisiana Central is a fictional railroad, but I will be attempting to model a railroad that “could have been”.  The route was established quite a few years ago after I dismantled a smaller bedroom layout.  Using Louisiana and Mississippi road maps, I tentatively sketched out a route, while simultaneously working on the rationale for the railroad.  My friend, Wayne Robichaux and I headed out one Saturday morning, maps in hand, and drove to the bank of the Mississippi River up above the town of St. Francisville, Louisiana.  We located some relatively straight high ground near the river and determined that this would be a great place to locate the western end of the line.  I decided that I would create an interchange with the Texas and Pacific Railway at this location.  The T&P would arrive here via a car ferry operation.  Of course, the T&P never had a ferry in this location, but the Missouri Pacific system did have other ferry operations both upstream and downstream from where we were, so it didn’t seem too far fetched that we could have one here also.

With this point established and appropriate notes entered on the map, we headed generally northeast.  While the towns featured along the Louisiana Central are fictional places, most are located very close to actual towns along the proposed right-of-way.  For example, the town of Monterey is a bit north of St. Francisville, Whitcomb is above Woodville, Mississippi and Willis is just north of Gloster, Miss.  Two intermediate towns, Oneida and Maynard, aren’t stand-ins for real places, but they are located along highways following the railroad route.  The only actual place on the Louisiana Central is Bude, Miss.  However this won’t be modeled on the Louisiana Central; it instead will be represented by hidden staging track.

We will interchange at Willis with the Illinois Central (an expansion of the line that actually served Gloster), and at Bude with the Mississippi Central (an actual railroad in Bude during the modeled era).

Returning to our travel, after leaving Monterey, we just headed to each place, in order, as best we could.  Along the way, we made short detours at minor roads as were available so as to get close to the Louisiana Central “track”.  It all worked out rather nicely, with few adjustments having to be made to the original sketched out right-of-way on the road maps.

We’ve since repeated this trip a couple times, checking out the terrain, scenery and structures along the way, and I’ve taken quite a few photos.  No doubt, another trip or two will be in order as the scenery stage for the model railroad comes into play.

One of the reasons for the initial selection of this route was because of the terrain.  The west end of the line is in the heart of the Tunica Hills.  Most folks don’t equate Louisiana with hilly terrain, but this area is not only hilly, in places it is downright treacherous!  There are several narrow two lane roads running through this area, and where possible they tend to run along ridge lines.  During the summer with all the heavy, lush growth, it is difficult to see much past the edge of the road.  But in the late winter when the growth has died back somewhat, it isn’t uncommon to observe the ground steeply plummeting down at the edge of the road for a hundred or so feet.  Near this location is the Louisiana State Prison (Angola).  It is generally considered escape proof as it is bound on one side by the Mississippi River, and surrounded on the other sides by the Tunica Hills.  On the rare escape attempt, the convict doesn’t usually get very far due to the extremely harsh terrain he has to traverse.

As the rail line moves to the northeast and into the State of Mississippi, the hills get much larger, though generally more gentle in their nature.  This is gorgeous country, and seeing a train working its way through this landscape just thrills me.  The forests also turn into predominantly Southern Pine, and that is precisely the reason the Spencer Lumber Company will exist.  This region was a huge timber producer in its day, and had a number of companies working these forests.  One of the biggest was the Crosby operation, and Spencer will be in direct competition with this giant.  The Spencer mill will be located in Oneida (named after Mr. Spencer’s oldest daughter, and whose very existence is due to Spencer).

I hope this little treatise has helped explain the rail line a bit better.  There is much more that can be written, and I may share other tidbits with y’all from time to time.  Feel free to comment or ask any questions, or even to offer suggestions for the line.


The Southern Forest Heritage Museum

“The Southern Forest Heritage Museum, located in Long Leaf, Louisiana, is the oldest complete sawmill facility in the South. This complex is unique in that it is a complete sawmill complex dating from the early 20th century, and that it has the most complete collection of steam-powered logging and milling equipment known to exist. The museum is spread over a 57 acre area. On the property is the commissary, providing an entrance to the museum, the Planer Mill, the Planer Mill Power Plant, the Water Pumping Station, the Round House, the Machine Shop, the Car-knocker Shop, the Sawmill, the Sawmill Power Plant, and Storage Sheds. Railroad equipment that can be seen at the museum includes three locomotives, a McGiffert Loader, and a rare Clyde Rehaul Skidder.  In addition, one can see many artifacts that were left in place when the mill closed February 14, 1969.”

The above paragraph comes from the opening page of the museum’s website.  These words don’t come close to describing all there is to see at this place.  The mill complex was family owned and operated as the Crowell Long Leaf Lumber Company.  As stated above, the operation started in the early part of the 20th century, and abruptly shut down one day in 1969.  What is really unique about this is the way many ongoing activities there were literally caught in time when this happened.  To me, the most obvious thing was the logging flat car under construction in the car shops.  The partially constructed car is still sitting there exactly as it was left in 1969 when everyone walked away!

The mill complex is relatively complete.  The sawmill, planer mill, kilns, boiler house, sorting sheds…all are still there.  Some of the machinery still operates.  Originally the mill was steam powered, and there is an elaborate system of shafts, pulleys and belts to operate the equipment.  In later years, the mill converted to electric motor power, but the belt and pulley infrastructure is all still there.

Parked under a big sorting shed is an array of vehicles and machinery that were used by the company: trucks, lumber carriers, fire break machines, bulldozers, and much more.

Of course, for me, the crown jewels are the remnants from the logging operation.  The Crowell family owned and operated the Red River and Gulf Railroad, and three steam locomotives are still on the property.  The roundhouse (which is actually a rectangular engine house), the car shop and other facilities are all open for inspection.  There are a couple logging cars, a pair of McGiffert loaders (one of which is being restored), and the Clyde skidder.  The skidder is unusual in that it is double ended, with a centrally mounted boiler, and operating machinery on either end.  Even the vast array of “junk” scattered in the nearby woods is interesting.  There are pieces and parts of all sorts of machinery, and the remains of several steam locomotives that were scrapped, including some Shays.

The museum folks have been slowly, but surely stabilizing the property from further deterioration, and have been doing a limited amount of restoration work.  The mill superintendent’s house has become the museum office, and the company store has been restored and is used as the entry point, museum and gift shop for the complex.  The original trackage at the back and side of the property has been extended and now forms a loop around the perimeter, where rides are occasionally offered on the company’s speeders or their recently acquired motor car.  The motor car, numbered M-4, was formerly operated by the Fernwood, Columbia and Gulf Railroad, and was donated to the museum by Louis Saillard.  It is in operation, and is being restored, bit by bit, to its original glory.

I could write pages about this place, but it really has to be visited to be fully appreciated.  It is a great way to spend a day (and it will take that long to really see everything at a leisurely pace).  Long Leaf is located about 24 miles south of Alexandria, Louisiana.  The town of Forest Hill is just a few miles north.

Here’s a link to their website: