Years ago, I bought a Walthers track scales kit. I got as far as gluing the buildings together and on to the base but no further. Year later, I am trying to finish some of these languishing kits and this one is slap bang in the middle of my port area.
To model it properly, I needed to find some photos and understand how it all worked.
What are track scales?
Every railroad which carries freight that is charged by weight carried needs to understand how much it is carrying to ensure it charges the right amount. Typical commodities that this might include are coal and ore or grain. The easiest way to do this is the weigh the entire car or hopper that the goods are being carried in.
In the yards of these industries, the railroad cars would be weighed on the way in, empty, and on the way out, full.
The track scales themselves are relatively simple: there is a set of scale rails and, of course, a set of scales to weigh the cars. Some weigh continuously and some require each car to stop in turn. These scales are actually fairly large and there is usually a hut to protect these delicate instruments from the weather.
One key feature is that the locomotive does not run over the scale rails. This is achieved in two ways and the kit provides both options:
- Single set of tracks which the locomotive pushes the cars over but doesn’t itself run over
- Double tracks with switches at both ends and the locomotive runs parallel to the scale tracks on a second set of tracks whilst pulling the cars over them.
I’ve decided to model the latter but if space for switches gets tight, I may have to default to the first option.
Scale Test Cars
Scales need to be kept calibrated and tested and to do this, railroads had their own cars which were a known weight. These were used to ensure that the scales were accurate. This is another lovely detail to model and each railroad had their own, which often differed.
Paul Hobbs sent me his powerpoint which has some excellent photos in it: Scale Test Cars. Here’s a couple that are similar to the New Haven one’s that I will need to use:
As a note, operating practice dictated that they were next to the caboose in a freight train as they had no air brakes, only air lines, and there was a 25mph restriction. That’s another great detail to model in your operations.
There’s a great build of one here at George Dutka’s website.
This is an easy thing to model as it doesn’t take much room – just a few inches and a hut. Plus, it can add operational interest as each car has a set weighing period.
My scales are on the run into the coal pier where bulk shipments are received. They’re probably a little close but I don’t have a lot of real estate to play with:
You can even go as far as to install electronic weigh scales:
I don’t have anything on my fascias so I may find a way to do this on an iPad instead. All food for the modelling thought…
I thought it would be interesting to pull together how I found out all the above as I am no expert on track scales. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them in the USA in real life.
Researching a prototype is, for me, half the fun of modelling.
The first thing I did was check out Walthers’ photos and instructions which are still available online:
These are a great starting point but don’t have any photos.
My first stop for images is always Google image search. That found some interesting links and some great photos:
Library of Congress
My next stop is always the Library of Congress website. This has so many historical photos and plans that it is a real gold mine for research.
Here are two examples of track scale houses from their collection:
For modern buildings I will also use Google Maps.
I managed to find the following images from Google of the Pocatello track scales. The resolution is not good but they do help when planning colours and a scene. As an aside, I love the view of cracked concrete roads from above.
The final thing I do is look through magazines for articles. I did cheat a little because I wouldn’t have found the track scales above in Google Maps without the article but it’s all an iterative process.
I found one article in the NMRA Magazine June 2012 which was very helpful in pulling together some of the final details.