The home of The Rip Track podcast, disseminating information about model railroading and worldwide railroad history.

I'm working on an update to the site; check out the public beta at http://riptrack.net/dev.

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New section - Railroad History

In case you hadn't noticed, there's a new entry in the links at the top of the page. The Railroad History link will take you to a section of articles about various topics in prototype railroad history (fancy that!). Many of you know about my contributions to Wikipedia and the railroad history information available there, and you may be wondering why I'm choosing to add a history section here. Wikipedia content guidelines have been worked out over many years to describe the notability requirements for inclusion in the content there; also, one of the core policies of Wikipedia is "no original research" which means that everything contributed to Wikipedia needs to be referenced with citations to information available elsewhere.

RPO service in the US turns 148 today

The first official mail transport by rail in the world occurred in 1830 when the UK's General Post Office shipped mail on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Then, in 1838, the General Post Office again achieved another first when the first Travelling Post Office car was introduced on the Grand Junction Railway, enabling sorting of mail while en route. Here in the US, the first mail was carried in a baggage car in 1831 on the South Carolina Rail Road, and Congress designated all US railroads as official postal routes in 1838. In 1862, the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad began regularly carrying mail in purpose-built mail cars. But it was August 28, 1864, that interests us most today, because that was the date that George B. Armstrong, a postmaster who had been promoted through his service in Chicago, established the first permanent RPO route in the US. It wasn't much longer until RPO cars looked more like what we think of today, as the mail hook was patented in 1867. The last regular RPO service in the US ended on June 30, 1977, with the last run of the route between New York and Washington, DC.

Modeler's Moment - Need a project? YVRR Bagby station

Today, August 24, 2008, is the 63rd anniversary of the last regular operations of the Yosemite Valley Railroad. The railroad's last scheduled passenger train operated on August 24, 1945, from Merced to Merced Falls. If you're in need of inspiration for your next model building project, why not try one of the structures along this short line railroad? There is a fairly large amount of data to help you in your endeavors, including some in the public domain available through the National Archives. The image here is one of three images that contain plans for the Yosemite Valley Railroad's Bagby station. There is enough in the plans for any good model builder to create a reasonable model of the station. So let's get building (and if you do build this, send me a photo and you could be featured on this site too!)

Modeler's Moment - Are your structures missing something?

They missed their orders

I saw an ad on television recently that touted the importance of a good foundation. Just like the prototype, your model structures could be quickly and easily improved with a good foundation too. Look around at the buildings in your neighborhood; the foundations are usually visible as a narrow strip of concrete below the wall that makes up the side of a building. Sometimes the foundation is painted in the same color as the rest of the wall, sometimes it's left bare. Whatever its color, a quick box of styrene strip material will easily simulate such a foundation. If you don't add a foundation, you could end up with something like this image where the structure appears to be floating above the ground.

Modeler's Moment - Connecting the mainline to the yard

Interesting trackwork

Connecting the yard tracks to the mainline tracks on a model railroad can be a confusing problem for some modelers. For this problem, like others in the hobby, it's often best to follow the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!). This example, which was used on an HO scale modular layout, uses four standard turnouts, three small-angle crossings and one double-slip switch. With this configuration, it's fairly easy to tell which route a train will follow through the junction, and by using only standard switches and crossings on the three mainline tracks, it is much less likely to derail a train already on the mainline. One other thing to note with this configuration is that the number of S curves a train needs to negotiate to travel between the yard and the mainline are minimized, further reducing the chance of derailments through the junction.

Modeler's Moment - The numbering doesn't have to be neat

Preserving the reporting marks

One thing that I always find fascinating about graffiti on railroad property is how the railroads deal with it. I've heard stories of graffitists getting arrested or chased off and then the equipment moved to the paint shop for a patch job, but I've also heard stories of other graffitists who were simply advised not to cover the numbers. Inevitably, many freight cars these days will have their reporting marks covered by a graffitist's piece. Here's one of the more interesting solutions that I've seen recently; the number was repainted with spray paint in a way that makes me think it could have been done by the graffitist himself. On our model railroads, this gives us another way to renumber equipment without getting out the paint strippers. However, for cars used in operating sessions, remember to get the reporting marks on all four sides so your operators can spot the cars correctly on your layout.

Modeler's Moment - They put their mark on everything

BN SF marked tie

By now we've all seen brakeman's lanterns with railroad names stamped into the metal or etched onto the globes. Why did they do this? Technically the lanterns were the railroads' property, so if one went missing and was found by someone else, they would know where it was supposed to go for return. North American railroads put their names on everything that could be easily carried for this reason. But did you know that some railroads are even going as far as stamping their initials onto the ties they use in their track? This BNSF tie found in Glen Haven, Wisconsin, this past weekend is evidence of this. Have you found a railroad name where you weren't expecting it yet?

Goodbye, Bonnie.

This has nothing really to do with trains and only close friends and family will be able to decipher all of the references, so please bear with me.

Bonnie 1

Bonnie left us this morning. In the cat blog world, they say she crossed the rainbow bridge. She always liked to be in whatever room I was in, usually just relaxing nearby.

Modeler's Moment - Another short bridge idea

Bridge over a cut

When you're working on your Master Builder - Structures certificate, don't forget that you have one bridge to build. The requirements don't say anything about the kind or the size of bridge that you have to build, only that it should be prototypical. A short bridge like this one, which is on the N scale layout of a friend of mine, would work wonderfully for this requirement.

Modeler's Moment - How fast does it go?

At every model railroad show that I attend where I show NTrak modules, there is always someone who asks how fast the trains can run. I always try to operate at prototypical speeds, but there are a few times when we put out our TGV and Shinkansen models and turn the throttles to 11. At Trainfest every year in Milwaukee, there's a Lionel operators club that sets up this train race layout and invites kids to run the trains fast...

It may not be prototypical, but I don't think any of the kids were complaining about prototype accuracy here.

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