Friday, February 10, 2017

Review: Pullman-Standard Color Guide to Freight Equipment

Pullman-Standard Color Guide to Freight Equipment

The Decades of Color 1960-1970

James Kinkaid. 1995

Morning Sun books

Back in the old days, most freight cars were limited to a pretty bland set of colors. Boxcar red, boxcar brown, flat black and dull gray with white or black lettering were the norm. Colorful cars were few and far between. Those few inspired the more popular models of freight rolling stock.

Insofar as model trains in the old day, someone figured out that it was actually women who bought most of the toys. They made the purchases for their sons. To that end, train sets included colorful cars so as to appeal to moms.

On the real railroads, colorful cars were a small minority of rolling stock well into the 1950s. Then came the era of color full cars. Many railroads and others who owned rolling stock started dressing some of their cars in brighter livery. Pullman Standard proved cars that were factory-painted in the customers’ preferred colors.

Pullman-Standard Color Guide to Freight Equipment The Decades of Color 1960-1970 is a collection of Pullman photography of many of the cars it build and painted in striking, colorful schemes. Listed by railroad in alphabetical order are a host of boxcars, stock cars, hi-cubes, hoppers and others in colors that would make any O-Gauger smile. There are even some limited and one-of-a-kind cars included.

This is a ready reference of striking rolling stock. For those who want to paint their own, the crisp photography will be a useful guide.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sci-Fi Crewmen, from Mortars to Starships


Science fiction has its share of small craft pilots, fighter pilots and crewmen of various weapons and vehicles. A glimpse at aspects of current crewmen gives insight into how the crewman of the future may develop.

With the release of the Hasbro Star Wars army men type figures, we have a nice assortment of armed combatants based on that franchise. Along with Imperial Stormtroopers and Rebel infantry, one will find various pilots, crewmen, Jedi and aliens.

Let’s look at pilots and various crewmen.  At this time on Earth, pilots and crew of military aircraft receive training both for flight and for ground situations. Fighter pilots are taught what to do if they are shot down. This includes escape and evasion and use of firearms. The same training is given aircrews of bombers and other combat aircraft. While they might not have the ground combat skills of an infantryman, they can put up a fight.

In a futuristic setting, an air crew might be able to also act as a small landing party. They may be able to set up a small perimeter and explore the immediate area. I doubt they would be prepared to fend off a serious attack. In that case, escape via their aircraft would be the obvious option.

If we look to the Star Wars figures as an example, we see the Tie Fighter pilot and several X-Wing pilots all armed with pistols. It would be realistic to assume that the Tie Fighter Pilot has good training in using his weapon plus skills in the use of cover, concealment, escape and evasion. Rebel training would vary from unit to unit. It may range from very good to poor to uneven..For instance, one unit may be taught excellent shooting skills but poor escape and evasion techniques. This kind of spotty training is consistent with historical precedents for rebellions and mercenaries.

Crews of combat vehicles such as tanks, personnel carriers and self-propelled artillery are trained primarily in manning their respective vehicles / crew-served weapons. Most armies also give these troops basic infantry training so they can fight when dismounted. Crews of crew-served weapons such as mortars, missile launchers and the like also receive infantry training. They can defend themselves and their weapon. Usually, such troops are protected by infantry operating between them and the enemy. It was discovered in World War II that to leave such men untrained in personal combat is a mistake. The speed of modern warfare and the likelihood of troops operating behind the lines demands that all military personnel in the combat zone need basic infantry skills. We can assume that in futuristic scenarios among humans and alien types, that lesson had also been learned.

Then again, there is no accounting for some things that aliens do.

I am reminded of how Japan used Koreans as secondary troops during World War II. These men were used in labor and construction battalions, supply units and such. They had very little combat training. Call it a case of smugness and bigotry that the Japanese did not think it worthwhile to teach the Koreans to defend themselves. Indeed, many of the “Japanese” troops captured during World War II were actually Koreans from labor and supply units.

We can use the Navy as an example of how crews of larger vessels would be trained. Most would receive a basic sort of training that may include rudimentary crew skills and perhaps basic use of personal weapons. Most training would go into developing a crewman’s skills for his particular specialty. For instance, a ship‘s crew today includes radar men, sonar men, engine crews, and even food preparation. Combat with larger ships generally involves crew-served weapons such as ani-aircraft guns, heavier artillery and missiles. Many crewmen have a “battle station” that requires serving the guns or other combat necessities.

For times when personal combat skills are necessary, most ships have a contingent of security personnel. The US Navy assigns Marines to its ships for this purpose. Futuristic craft may have special security teams or their verison of Marines. They would handle internal troubles as well as attempted boardings and provide landing parties.

Special types of ships are designed to transport troops and heavy weapons to combat areas. These would be well-defended.

Something like the “Death Star” would have an abundance of regular crewmen plus contingents for internal security and landing parties. A starship like the Enterprise should have a unit of personnel similar to the Marine contingent on a modern Navy ship. The crews of small ships like those in Firefly and Farscape’s Moira are responsible for thetr own defense.

On the whole, be they assigned to large weapons, vehicles or components of a large vessel, crewmen prefer to stick to their specialty. While they can function as an impromptu infantry, they prefer to man their guns / tanks / ships. Crewmen would rather leave infantry and security work to the grunts.


To understand dismounted crewmen in a gunfight, the best example is from the Western genre. Think of scenes where cowboys defend from behind a wagon or from a house. This is not the coordinated musketry of a rifle team. The cowboys can shoot and provide cover, but they are not as polished as men trained to fight as a unit.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Sci-Fi Realistic Armies and Squads

Judging from the movies, Imperial Stormtroopers are lousy shots and poorly trained in combat in enclosed areas (towns, ships, etc.) They have very little training in practical infantry tactics. Then again, the same can be said for the Redshirts among original Star Trek crews.

For a realistic sci-fi game, units of regular and elite troops would have to be formidable thanks to equipment, training and support. These troops would have protective gear, reliable weaponry and appreciable combat skills. It is useful that these would include:

Use of cover and concealment
Use of extra weapons such as hand grenades.
Close combat skills, both unarmed and using hand-held weapons
Practical fire team and squad tactics.
Use of various infantry weapons: pistols, heavy rifles, small rocket launchers, etc.
Scouting and Patrolling
The ability to assess and respond to enemy action
The ability to coordinate one’s actions with other team / squad members
The ability to communicate with other members of one’s army

These are basic skills, the equivalent of which are taught in modern basic training. Advanced versions of these skills are common among regular combat troops.

Among advanced skills are fighting techniques adapted to various types of terrain. These may include jungle, grassland, tundra, sand and stone deserts, forests, and swamps. Sci-fi scenarios would also include combat in low atmosphere and low gravity environments. Combat in aquatic and subterranean environments may require specially-trained troops.

Unless they had good training and discipline, a platoon of Rebels would be at a disadvantage against a squad of Stormtroopers with realistic fighting skills.

Remember also the ability of Imperial troops to call in support and reinforcements from larger units.

In an OMOG game, imagine a Stormtrooper unit of nine to twelve men. It will have a commander, assistant commander, regular weapon teams (equivalent to rifle teams) and a heavy weapons team (equal to auto rifle or LMG team). There may likely be some sort of rocket-propelled or simple grenade launcher. Imagine that at first contact, the squad has alerted the next level of command. This means that in a number of turns - maybe ten or twelve - more troops and weapons may intervene. The Rebel unit has to accomplish its mission before Imperial support arrives.

Stormtroopers, may also be standard enemy infantry / marines, Peacekeepers, Scarans, etc. Rebels may also be mercenaries, etc.

Rebel and irregular forces usually have inferior arms, mixes and incompatible weapons, and limited supplies of ammo and support. Imperial and other government forces are part of their government supply chain and have abundant ammo and other resources. This includes the ability to operate in different environs, etc.


The problem with Sci-Fi writers is that they have no experience with military matters, especially in these days. When designing a government army, they should look at current counterparts. I would suggest downloading one of the soldiers’ basic skills manuals from the past 40 years. Also, a manual on the infantry squad and platoon. and one on scouting and patrolling. Various such manuals from World War II to the present can be found online. If a writer wants to write about armored vehicles or artillery, he ought to acquire basic information on the operation of modern tanks, personnel carriers and artillery units.

It stands to reason that futuristic infantry, armor and artillery will evolve from the lines established for its current counterparts.

There are ways that armies have fought through the ages. Modern armies have evolved to current modes of warfare. What may the future bring? What may be available in a futuristic, distant part of the galaxy that evolved differently from Earth?

Another monkey wrench in the works: how would different cultures affect the way soldiers fight? In World War II, Japanese culture supported suicide attacks. On the other hand, the Israeli army does everything it can to protect the lives of its soldiers because of its far more limited manpower.

This much I can assure you as a veteran: the regular army forces of a government will reflect its leadership in terms of training, equipment, leadership and support. Armies of stable governments tend to be well-trained, well-led and well-supported. They can fight well. A ragtag bunch of rebels would have a hard time confronting such a force. Rebels may pull off a small raid or ambush infrequently, but they would find themselves outmatched by a well-trained and well-led government unit.


Star Wars, Star Trek and other militaries are made to look good on screen. Their primary purpose is to entertain within the parameters of their respective franchises. We cannot easily equate the weapons carried by sci-fi characters with their Earthly inspirations. The standards are not so much how an effective weapon might appear, but how cool a weapon looks.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Railroad book review: Conrail Guide to Freight Equipment Volume I: 1976 - 1987 by Larry De Young

Back in the 1970s, the major Northeastern railroads were facing a dire future. Penn Central was falling apart after the merger that created it. The Erie-Lackawanna was overburdened and poorly maintained. The Jersey Central was barely holding on. Enter the USRA and the result was Conrail, a government sponsored merger of the Penn Central, Erie-Lackawanna, Reading, Lehigh Valley, Jersey Central and Lehigh & Hudson River. The Conrail Merger created a super-power railroad.
Granted, Conrail was not as colorful as its predecessors. The Conrail colors were blue with white lettering and a curious white logo that looked like an old fashioned opener. Actually, it was supposed to represent wheels on rails.
Conrail painted its locomotives and cabooses the same blue with white lettering. Most freight cars were in conventional colors such has boxcar red. That is, the cars that were repainted. Many cars from roads that Conrail absorbed had their logos and names painted over, and then a white CR added.
The Morning Sun Conrail Guide to Freight Equipment Volume I: 1976 - 1987 by Larry De Young did quite an extensive look at Conrail equipment. And though some may complain that there was a lack of revenue-earning passenger equipment - Conrail handled the old commuter lines until NJ Transit and Metro North took over - that would have been redundant. None of the passenger service cars had been repainted by Conrail. They carried the liveries of their respective former roads. The book focuses on Conrail-painted equipment and spares us the rest. Also absent were cars whose original logos and names were painted over with a blue patch with white CR letters. This book is strictly Conrail paint.
The one thing that amazed me was the number of cabooses that were illustrated. These had been repainted Conrail Blue and have a variety of origins. After all, Conrail had inherited the fleets of six roads. The rail historian and model railroader is treated to a great assortment backed with good information on the origins and other particulars of the various cabooses. There is also plenty on boxcars, insulated boxcars, hoppers, covered hoppers, flats and more. Also included are non-revenue equipment, cranes and business cars.
In all, The Morning Sun Conrail Guide to Freight Equipment Volume I is a useful reference with great photography. Good editorial decisions have kept the focus on Conrail and spared the reader any redundant materials. This is all original Conrail paint. And it is mostly from the early years when Conrail was establishing its identity. Railroad modelers and railroad historians interested in Conrail and Northeastern railroads will find this a great reference.
I like the Morning Sun Color Guides and have the ones for EL, DL&W / Erie, CNJ / LV, NYC, NH and Conrail. The color photography is superb and they are a great reference. Though I am not the rivet-counting collector, I enjoy seeing the various car types and such. Then again, I am the same way about armored vehicles and have several references books to them. Whether it’s an Erie-Lackawanna 40' boxcar or an M3 Medium "Lee" tank, I enjoy those details.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Starcraft. Bag O' Terran Marines and Bag O' Zerglings

I am pretty much unfamiliar with Starcraft and Warcraft. The only thing that caught my eye were these figures, which Billy Hill posted in the Army Men Homepage FB page. What with my recent work on sci-fi topics, I had to have them. They looked like superb characters for a sci-fi skirmish game.
Starcraft Terran Marines
I ordered a bag each of Terran Marines and Zerglings. What I gathered from a Starcraft fan site is that the Marines are armored and use weapons that fire metal spikes. The Zerglings are creatures with sharp appendages that can do great harm in hand-to-hand fighing. They seem to be a mix of insectoid, crustacean and reptilian features.
Terrna Marines and Zerglings
This reminds me of a starter set for Warhammer 40,000 from ten years or so past. We carried it in a hobby shop where I worked at the time. The game set had Space Marines versus a swarm of buglike critters. Starcraft’s Marines and Zerglings seem like a similar kind of nerdware.
On pages and sites of those selling the figures, each stated that each bag has nine figures. One said there were nine figure and six poses of the marines. He was mistaken. In reality, there are three each of three poses. The marines have one pose rushing with rifle pointed, one standing with rifle up, and one rushing with shield and rifle. There are three Zerglings in three poses. (Zergling sounds like something they would name a Pennsylvania beer). The figures have a lot of overhangs, which means they were originally molded in parts that were assembled prior to packaging. Marines are in light blue; Zerglings are brown.
Marines and Ajax Spacemen. Marines are shorter but just as thick.
Despite their thickness, the marines are about 54mm to 60mm size. It is their overall thickness that dwarfs Star Wars and Galaxy Laser Team figures. These guys are thick. The Zerglings have all sorts of appendages and it takes a while to figure which part is the head. Detail on marines and Zerglings is very nice. They could easily be fit into a game like Laserblade. (When I finish the Sci-Fi supplement for OMOG, I will have to accommodate figures like these. They are too cool!)
Marines with Galazy Lasrer Team. Marines are much larger.
The Terran marines resemble the space-marines of popular nerdware Warhammer 40,000. Of coure, they are not the same. I am sure that nerds who play both Warhammer and Starcraft can point out all the differences.
Zerglings with Galaxy Laser Team
These Terran marines and Zerglings would both look great if they were painted.
Marines and Hasbro Star Wars 54mm figures. Similar height, but the thickness of the marines makes the Star Wars figures look smaller.
Even if you do not want to add elements of Starcraft to skirmish games, you could use both Marines and Zerglings for other things.
Zerglings and Star Wars figures.
Good plastic sci-fi figures are a treasure. In 2015, we had Hasbro’s excellent Star Wars Command figures. These were 54mm size and had a nice variety of types and poses. An interesting set was a 40mm scale bag soldier set of Aliens Colonial Marines and Aliens. Though far from ideal, they gave fans of the Aliens franchise something with which to work. An old favorite, reissued by Tim Mee is the Galaxy Laser Team. The team is a source of various figures, from turtle-monsters to conventional astronauts. Throwing the Terran Marines and Zerglings into this mix could provide some intriguing scenarios for space skirmish games.
Marines and MPC Astronauts (Mercury - Gemini Type). Marines are massive compared to astronauts.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: The Lionel Fastrack Book by Robert Schleicher

I came across the Lionel Fastrack Book in Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago. The mark-down price was $8.00 and change. I bought it. I had read a couple of other books by the author, Robert Schleicher. They were reviewed here a few months ago.
The original list price of The Lionel Fastrack Book was over $25. In my opinion, it was not worth the list price. This was mostly a book about building layouts. Many of the track plans were cribbed from older Lionel publications such as The Manual for Model Builders. Most layouts used wider radius track. Obviously, the preferred audience is people who have a lot of space to build a very large layout.
Large layouts by hobbyists were used for illustrations. These were basic green tables with a little scenery and a few operating accessories. The impression I got was that the layouts could be changed on a whim. The book took the time to discuss TMCC far better than Schleicher’s prior work, the Big Book of Lionel. In that book, mention was also made of Fastrack but no layout plans were offered.
Not bad for a beginner to use, but he would still have to learn to use TMCC or Legacy as well as get a handle on the track system. Though conventional blocks were discussed and illustrated, the author pushed TMCC and Legacy.
The talk on scenery, accessories and other accompaniments was all too brief and Lacking. For the most part ,scenery was stuff just placed on the table. There was little reference to serious scenic effects. The emphasis was on temporary or quick-change layouts rather than realism.
Frankly, the book lacked that indefinable quality that would have given it weight. It did not make me enthusiastic about making a layout or using Fastrack. Almost all of the information could have been gotten from Lionel’s own manuals and instruction sheets.
Not bad for $8.00 and change. Not worth $25. Aside from the emphasis on Fastrack and a but more detail on TMCC, there was really nothing new here. It does not do for Fastrack what the old K-Line Track and Accessory manual did for tubular rail and conventionally-operated trains.
The emphasis on large layouts using wider radius curves means that layouts will have to be bigger, and that requires having the space and the money to do it. The author claims that wider curves allow operators to use Lionel’s largest locomotives.

I run my trains conventionally and use O and O27 tubular rail. I have a lot of it and see no point buying other track. These new systems do not offer me enough of an incentive to change. Ditto for TMCC. I had tried it a few times and found it was not as much fun. The price of a TMCC or Legacy or even DCS system is daunting. So are the prices of locomotives equipped for them. The Lionel Fastrack book reminded me, by comparison, that it’s all about enjoying the trains. For me, that means transformer control and tubular rail.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Review: Morning Sun Books: NH Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment

Morning Sun Books: NH Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment
by David R. Sweetland, Stephen Horsely
The New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad connected New York City with Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Commonly known the New Haven, it was the largest and most powerful of the New England railroads. I first learned of the New Haven through Lionel Trains when I was a child. The black boxcar with NH in block letters was very appealing. Over 55 years later, it still looks fine.
The New Haven was a very attractive railroad. Its original color was green with yellow trim. Its logo at that time was New York, New Haven and Hartford in cursive script. The color scheme changed under a company president named McGinnis. Though a failure as president, he introduced the bright color scheme of black, white and orange with block letters. Known as the "McGinnis Scheme", it made the New Haven the most colorful Northeastern railroad.
I have no personal connection with the New Haven, except for having ridden Amtrak from New York to Boston’s Back bay station a couple of times in the 80s. Amtrak followed the old New Haven route. My interest was due to the attractive boxcars, locomotives and passenger cars. It was a big part of Northeastern railroading for many years, until it was absorbed into the Penn Central merger.
This week, I received the New Haven Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment by Morning Sun Books. It covers the era of color photographs: 1940 to 1967. Most of the photos were taken between 1955 and 1967. Some show older equipment that was still on the line. Most photos are of equipment that was current at the time.
The quality of the photos is excellent. This has been a constant through all of the Color Guides I have seen: the Erie-Lackawanna, CNJ & LV, Erie & DL&W, New York Central and the New Haven. This volume covers boxcars, flat cars, hoppers, gondolas, MoW, cranes, cabooses, cars converted to head-end or MoW, and passenger cars. Because of the interest of the authors and the involvement of the New Haven Historical and Technical Association, there is information of rebuilt wood boxcars and captions with specific details of most cars.
Other companies have published photo galleries showing New Haven rolling stock, but they are not in color. This color guide is in crisp, sharp color. The photos are excellent and they give you a much better feel for the equipment. Good photography is a standard in Morning Sun Books. I have ten of their books and the color images in each are superb.
I recommend NH Color Guide to Freight and Passenger Equipment to fans of the New Haven Railroad.
I am primarily an operator of O and O27 trains. I have a few railroads that I especially like. One thing I enjoy is running models of trains in the livery of those railroads. I like having good references to the motive power and rolling stock of those roads. The Morning Sun books have been useful to me. They average about 130 pages and are chock full of excellent photographs.