I would like to build a few telltales as warnings at tunnel approaches
on my layout. Now comes the (I hope not too dumb) question. What is
the hanging part of the telltale made of? Pictures of model telltales
that I have seen are ambiguous at best, and the few prototype photos
I've seen are so blurry and distant that they are useless for my
purposes. I would think that lengths of rope would be the most
logical material, but I thought I'd ask before doing something very
unrealistic. Thanks in advance for any replies.
No, hitting you in the face was *never* their intended function.
Since anyone on a cartop who was facing in the train's direction of travel
would have seen not only the telltale but the upcoming obstruction itself
long before anything could hit them in the face; the telltale was intended
only to alert men who were walking the cartops facing towards the caboose,
and who therefore had their backs turned to the upcoming bridge girder,
tunnel portal, or whatever.
Thus the dangling ropes would brush your shoulders and perhaps the back of
your head as you passed them, but would have no chance of hitting you in the
face unless you happened to suddenly spin around at exactly the right
We had two telltales in the town where I grew up, protecting both ends of
the shortest truss bridge on the entire S.P. system , and the train never
crossed that bridge at anything over 10 MPH anyway, so I doubt that there
could have been much pain in any case, since the ropes appeared to be
something on the order of 3/8" hemp with a knot tied in each dangling end to
prevent their unraveling.
 The truss bridge is still there. It wasn't considered worth cutting up
to scrap. The telltales -and the tracks themselves- have been gone now for
over 40 years.
The ones in my town looked to be made of something like 3/8" or 1/2" hempen
ropes spaced about 8" or 10" apart, with a knot tied near each lower end to
prevent the rope from unraveling. Since ours had been hanging there ever
since God first made dirt, the ropes were frayed, ratty looking, and were
absolutely filthy from the steam engine exhaust that blasted up onto them
each time a train passed. Dirty gray-black would be a good color; and darker
towards the parts where the smokestack passed directly beneath them.
On the Southern Pacific at least, the wooden gibbets that supported the
ropes were painted the same Tuscan red that S.P. used on most of their
freight cars and cabeese, but for some reason they were painted white from
ground level up to about 4' high. (Night time visibility?)
Those support beams looked to be around 10"x10" in cross-section, but I'm
working on a 50-year-old memory here...
Believe it or not, telltales are difficult to model realistically. The
frames are a snap, but if you use thread to duplicate the dangling ropes, it
always seems to want to hang in a slight curve rather than extending
straight down as did the prototypes, and if you use wire instead it ends up
looking like, well, wire.
Should you find an easy solution to this problem you will no doubt be
awarded the plaudits of a grateful newsgroup.
Brass wire might work. I was using my experience making dioramas a
long time ago. The nice thing about using wax or shoe polish is you can
heat the waxed item to reshape it. Kiwi brown used to make nice manila
rope. Just heat the tin until it melts, drag the thread through it, wipe
off excess with a paper towel and voi ci you have a rope. If you need a
specific colour look for cheap lipstick. The cheaper brands have a
higher percentage of wax.
Dan, U.S. Air Force, retired
: >I would like to build a few telltales as warnings at tunnel
: > on my layout. Now comes the (I hope not too dumb) question.
: > the hanging part of the telltale made of?
: Believe it or not, telltales are difficult to model realistically.
: frames are a snap, but if you use thread to duplicate the dangling
: always seems to want to hang in a slight curve rather than
: straight down as did the prototypes, and if you use wire instead it
: looking like, well, wire.
: Should you find an easy solution to this problem you will no doubt
: awarded the plaudits of a grateful newsgroup.
I use a trick for getting the curl out of the line I use to make
rigging for my full rigged ship modeling.
For that I made a rack where I could hang multiple threads, but a
closet doorway will do for a few
threads to make tell-tales.
Take length of thread (18 - 24in is handy to work with) and run it
through a cake of bee's wax.
Attach a 1or 2oz weight to one end of the line
Use a push pin on the other end to hang it from the inside sill of a
(SWMBO doesn't like holes on the outside sill). You want the weight
Leave it for 12 - 24hrs to let the spool curl, and natural twist come
Take it down, and cut into the lengths you need for your tell-tale.
My thanks to everyone who replied. You've given me exactly the
information I needed. By the way, when I stiffened some thread on my
water tank rigging, I brushed it with some flat clear lacquer and
gently pulled it into position until it stiffened. I've also used
beeswax and white glue with similar results -- not 100% satisfactory,
but certainly more realistic than untreated hread.
It varied. I've got pix that show a telltale in Tehachapi distanced
aproximately 120' feet from the relevant tunnel portal, but one of the two
in our town lay diagonally all the way across a four-laned center-divided
highway from the bridge it protected; a distance of closer to 100 yards. Had
they spaced it the same as the one in Tehachapi, it would have stood right
in the middle of Hwy 99!
Since the purpose of the telltales was to give workers on the cartops
warning of an upcoming obstruction, I suppose you could space them by
counting the time it takes one of your faster trains to cover the distance
to the obstruction. Ten seconds seems like it would likely be enough time to
turn around, see the upcoming low clearance, and then duck...
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