When I first decided on modeling an Appalachian coal hauler, I knew I was going to need a lot of hopper cars. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time, and certainly not something that would deter me in any way. So I started building a few here and there, along with other rolling stock projects. The first two were Athearn 55-ton ribbed side cars that were lettered without any real thought as to how the car numbers would fit into the overall scheme of the railroad's numbering series. As I got more serious about developing the history of the Chesapeake, Wheeling & Erie, and after reading Allen McClelland's book The V&O Story, I developed a numbering series for the locomotives and rolling stock.
About the time I developed the numbering series, McKean announced their 12 panel 100-ton hopper car kit. I knew this was going to be the standard hopper car for the railroad, so I began painting and lettering them for the home road. I was using Champ Block Gothic decals for the large CWE herald, Champ Railroad Roman for the Central Belt logo, and Letraset dry transfers for the numbers and end lettering. Needless to say, lettering each car with individual decals and dry transfers was incredibly tedious and time consuming.
Once Champ modified the style of their Railroad Roman decals in the mid-1990's, I finally bit the bullet and got custom decals from Ron Roberts at Rail Graphics. This really helped speed up hopper car production, and I finally began to make some progress in developing the fleet. Feeling pretty good about the number of cars I had built, I figured out how many coal cars would be needed for the layout. Including the five branch lines and the on-line mines, the number is 140-150 cars (loads and empties). This is in addition to trains of loads and empties that would traverse the layout from one staging yard to another. A quick tally of how many cars were already built, and... sigh... it was going to be a long time until I had that many cars ready for operation. The layout wasn't anywhere near being ready to operate at this point, so I decided to keep plodding along and not worry about how many cars would eventually be needed one day.
For the next ten years or so, I tried to keep at least 2 hopper cars in some state of production at all times. Sometimes this worked better than others. At various time I had 3 cars in production. I also started keeping a running tally of both loads and empties that had been completed and noted the date when the latest additions were made to the fleet. Checking the dates periodically revealed that it would be at least another 40-50 years before before I had enough cars to properly operate the railroad, at least at the rate I was going.
Fast forward to 2012. The layout is finally being operated on a fairly regular basis and I'm lucky enough to have just about enough cars to pull this off. We're still not working the Dry Creek loader at Summit Springs and the Elkwater Branch Roustabout and Dry Creek Turn, both of which come on the layout from staging, have a limited number of coal cars. We're pulling loads and empties at Allison Coal Company in North Pierce. But the Purgittsville Turn (another train from staging) isn't even in service yet and we're using N&W cars for the mine at Nelsonville. It's clear that the pace of hopper car construction needs to pick up, and pick up quickly, if we're ever going to have enough cars to fully operate the layout as it was originally intended.
So here's the latest plan. I'll have ten cars under construction at any point in time- 2 each in one of the five following categories:
1) Construction (assemble the kit if necessary, add Kadee #5's and cut levers, check wheel gauge and coupler height, etc.)
2) Paint and Glosscote
3) Decal and Dullcote
4) Paint fade and grime and Dullcoate
Each week I'll complete the five steps above for two cars. The photo below shows the box that contains the eight cars in the first 4 stages.
The two cars on the right need to have the interiors painted with Sophisticated Finishes iron paint prior to weathering. Applying the rust solution to the iron paint will be part of the weathering step. And the two cars that are ready to be weathered are in another box.
As the above photo shows, the system seems to be working- at least so far. Granted, we're only into the second week. But it's been surprising how little effort is required to complete each step. And I have a whole week to do it. So stay tuned- this little plan just might work.