Freight Service

Freight service on the line consists of cars that are company owned, interchanged and privately owned or leased. Models are Accucraft AMS or Bachmann Spectrum series. Some are kit-bashed or heavily modified.

Most items are ready to run models that are repainted and weathered by me. Markings are either decals made with Testor’s decal sheet or reverse stencils using vinyl lettering. Flatcar and gondola loads range from kits to scratch-builds. I will post assorted builds here on the Freight Service page as I go along.

Build-Logs Pertaining to Freight Cars

Uncommon Narrow Gauge Freight Cars

As a narrow gauge modeler I often find myself hemmed in by the limited needs and short time lines that dictate the prototype rosters. Most of their revenue was derived from serving a limited number of specialized industries. They simply did not need the wide range of car types that the class ones developed.  Since I want to have a number of special use cars I have to justify their existence on my pike with logical reason and settle for following prototype practice rather than absolute example. Below are the build logs for a variety of rare or “never was” narrow gauge rolling stock. I will to the best of my ability stick to cars in use during my modeled time frame (1930 to 1939) as well as common design based on standard gauge practice. Their presence on the railroad is more easily justified. All I need is an industry that would have existed in Northern New Mexico in the thirties and shape it as a railroad customer.

Triple Dome Tank Car

One of my favorite types of rolling stock is the multi-dome tank cars that were commonly used from the 1920s until post WWII when truck traffic knocked the less than car load business off the railroads tally sheet.

Prototype in narrow gauge for multi-domes are rare. I have been told by a White Pass modeler that two triple domes were owned by that line and used for MOW service. I have not been able to verify this with either records or photos. An example for which there is evidence is this two dome owned and operated by the D&RGW.


Tank cars date back to the earliest days of railroading. They were originally open top vertical tanks made of wood and were used to haul crude oil.These washtubs on wheels shared the rail with barrel carriers until the advent of the horizontal riveted tank car in 1869. This is the car most commonly modeled on pre-WWII layouts. The tank mounted flat car could be found on railroads well into the 1940s but its progeny was introduced in 1901 as John Van Dyke’s riveted framless tank car. Using a V shaped saddle at each end of a riveted steel tank the new cars eliminated the wooden flatcar and let the tank itself supply structural stability. They were not well received by the railroads and less than 100 of the new newfangled things were built.

Van Dyke followed up his V car design with a throw back framed version called the X frame. It differed from the V cars in that it had a center sill steel frame running the length of the car under the tank. In 1924 the D&RGW converted 30 of the standard gauge cars for narrow gauge use. Some used the Van Dyke saddle design and became narrow gauge frameless cars while others had the frame split to allow the tank to sit lower giving the car better stability. The latter group became known as framed tank cars. Both types remained in use until the demise of the D&RGW narrow gauge lines. Bachmann has made excellent models of both of these cars as part of their 1/20.3 Spectrum line.


I run a great number of tank cars as part of my interchange traffic with the D&RGW as well as the RGS. The triple dome represents a private car owned by the Oso Grande Oil Company (my made up regional oil producer) used to supply petroleum products to its gas stations and various bulk customers across Northern New Mexico.The three compartments will be Ethyl, Regular and Diesel.

For this build I will be starting with a Bachmann framed tank car in oxide red.


I began by removing the dome and vent and making a mold for both out of RTV. Not very economical of me but I was not going to scratch build three domes. I then cast three new domes and vents. I thought of using the original but I already had it set up as a master for molding and decided to leave it in the archives for future use. Here is what the car looks like before the real work began.


With the domes made I needed to dismantle the tank car. Like most Bachmann products there is very little glue. Construction is done with screws or press fit. Not all of the screws are visible in the beginning. The truck screws do not go through to the tank. They are only attached to the frame. With the trucks removed I could see that the frame was held on by a screw at each end and the tank held together with two other screws located beneath the frame webbing. You can see about half of those holes in the second figure.


In addition to the screws the tank is held to the frame by the brake chain, tank bands and screws at the base of the ladders. I removed the chain from underneath since it required me to bend the last link open. The bands are attached using a small plastic pin. I will have to glue these when I am ready to reassemble. They are probably a press fit but I could not get mine to pull out. Others may have better luck so I recommend trying.


Tiny screws hold the ladders and walkways on. You can see them at the blue arrows in the first picture. The top of the ladders are held on with plastic tabs under the walkways. These are passed through holes in top of the ladders and then melted. The handrails are  two pieces passed through loops in the ladder frame and then held on by the stanchions. The stanchions are press fit and can be pried out gently. The last piece is pressed in as shown in the bottom picture. Removing all of these will allow the frame to be separated from the tank.


To get the tank apart remove the two large screws in the deep recessed holes. The walkway is secured inside of the tank by three screws along the center line. With these removed it will lift out with the coupler chains still attached.


The car is now disassembled and ready for conversion. Let me point out now that these cars are much sturdier in design and material thickness than the Big Hauler line. It made what came next much more difficult than I was expecting.

I measured and marked where the additional domes would sit. There is a lip on the bottom of the domes so the hole had to be slightly smaller than the main body. This lets them all rest at the same height supported from the base.

To make the holes I first drilled a 1/8″ pilot hole to keep the next bit from walking down the curved side of the tank. The enlargement was done with a 1/2″ bit. This allowed me to cut the lines with a piece of hacksaw blade out to the full diameter. I made sideways cuts to help break out the sections of plastic and then sanded it into the final shape.


To make the reinforcing ring at the base of the domes I drew a pattern on 1/6″ polystyrene and cut them out with scissors. These were glued on with acetone. I counted the rivets on the center dome and then made index marks on the new rings. This helped with spacing and placement of the holes for the rivets. I drilled each hole with a 1/64th bit in a pin vise and then enlarged each hole with a cut off track nail. The holes were now large enough to allow the rivets to slide in with a snug fit without splitting the plastic.

Using the pin vise was tedious and took me several sessions to drill all of the holes. I considered using the drill press but was afraid it would break the bits.

For rivets I am using Atlas HO round head track spikes. They are almost identical in size and shape to the molded on rivet heads. The project requires almost 650 of them.

In addition to the dome rings I added a row of rivets all the way around the tank in four places. This made every row double to represent the practice of the 1920s. Once finished I glued the rivets in place by running a line of super glue on the inside.


With the rivets done I was ready to glue the domes in place. Starting to look pretty good.


 Loads For Flatcars, Gondolas and Hoppers

There is not much that is more boring than an empty rolling stock. We are modeling railroads here and they never back-haul empty unless they are forced to. Which means we need to make something for them to carry. The build logs below cover my efforts in this area.

55 Gallon Steel Drum Load

One of the things I wanted for a load was a gondola full of 55 gallon steel drums. As is common in 1/20.3 the detail items I wanted were expensive and of questionable accuracy on scale. First I had researched what the dimensions of a 55 gallon drum in 1/20.3 should be. Real drums are of standard sizes based on volume and are regulated by law so all 55 gallon drums should be the same.

I found several good examples. Here are a resin set which are spun cast so they are hollow. Very good for keeping the weight down. This is a concern with resin as it adds up fast. Also found the set next to it. Injection molded drums in 1/20 scale. They would be to small by a noticeable amount and I could only find them on E-bay in a single set of ten. I also found drums in turned aluminum. Excellent detail but heavy. It was suggested to me to check the wooden drums sold at Lowe’s. As you can see in the last pic they are way off in dimension and would have required a lot of filling and sanding to get them smooth enough to represent steel even if they did work.

In the end the cost was the biggest problem with all but the wood running more than $5 each. I guesstimated I would need 30 to 36 so the thought of paying upwards of $150 for the load was a no go.

I decided to try casting my own. I needed a master and it needed to be accurately scaled. I figured if I could find a cylinder the right diameter I could make the seams, rolling bands and bungs with a little styrene and modeling epoxy. Luck smiled upon me when a review of the junk in the garage turned up an old pool cleaning brush with a plastic handle that was within 3/8″ of the correct diameter. The hacksaw was located and cutting ensued. A few days later I had a master albeit a little on the handy craft side as my modeling skills are from expert.

You see the drum below…that is not the one I built but it was the goal.


This is the one I built. The second pic shows it in (un-primed) comparison to a 1/18 toy and a Lowe’s barrel.

With money a driver on this I did some research on the cost of buying RTV and resin. Working everything out by the cost per ounce and taking shipping and coupons into account I found that the cheapest way to get materials was to order 2 gallons (1 plastic, 1 hardener) directly from Alumilite and to buy the RTV locally with a Hobby Lobby 40% off coupon as needed. Had I bought everything locally the cost would have been about %30 higher. (priced in 2014)


I built a mold box and poured RTV. A few days later I removed the master and poured my first drum. It was a solid lump of resin and weighed a ton. To make it worse the cost was over $3 each (figuring in the cost of the RTV). I experimented with rolling the mold and in two tries produced a hollow drum open on the bottom. That brought the cost down to $.27 each and solved the weight problem…I was in business.

The process went like this. I poured about a 1/4 ounce of mixture in the bottom of the mold (this will be the top of the drum) and then used my stir stick to deform the mold by pushing down in the center of the bottom. This opened the mold for the top seam to fill and burped the air out. I had molds for other details handy and poured my extra resin into them. Once the first part cured (5 minutes) I did a second 1/4 ounce, this time I tilted the mold on its side and let the resin flow up to the edge of the rim. I gently rolled it around trying not to wear it until it set up enough to not sag. I repeated this step once more and then left the item to cure. After 10 minutes I pushed on the bottom of the mold from the outside. The drum rose up where I could grab it and pull it free.

The narrow rim of the drums concerned me and I felt I needed more surface area to glue the barrels into the gondola. I tried filling them with Great Stuff foam and then cutting off the overflow after it cured. This worked well and added no real weight or cost to the project. The first one I did in the mold thinking this would keep the drum from deforming under the pressure of the expanding foam. It was not nessacary and after that I did them all out of the mold.


On a side note. I thought other modelers might want to buy some of these so I made drums until the mold failed. I had hoped to get 50.I ended up with 97. I guess because the shape was so simple with no tight undercuts. I did sell these to some NMGR club members and a bunch on E-bay. I did them as solid casts using sections of an old wooden broom handle as filler. It worked well being inserted just as the first pour was solidifying. In 2015 I used this process on a second run to make drums for my layout where weight was not an issue.

With the drums cast I was ready to paint them. Plenty of paint schemes and products to choose from.


I want a Texaco station on my layout someday and decided the load would be motor oil being shipped in for the gas station as well as the Cibola vehicle fleet. Texaco used several different paint schemes in the years between the wars and for different products.

I also need labels. I went with a side label for the product and a head label for the company.

I primed all of the barrels white and then painted them with a final coat in a half green half white scheme. I also printed labels to glue on each one of them.

A healthy coat of Treehouse Matte clear sealed the deal.

With the drums complete I needed to get the gondola ready. The donor car for this was an Accucraft tank car I had gotten at a bargain price. I removed the tank and sent it to E-bay.


Using some extra drums I figured out how big the compartment needed to be. I glued supports into the stake pockets. On a real car this enclosure would be removable but for me it is permanent. E6K is your friend.


With the stakes dry I attached the sides. These are made of bass wood and were attached using TB3. I moved onto the ends completing the wood part of this project.

Holes were drilled in the ends and a piece of clothes hanger inserted to represent the tension rod. Ozark miniatures NBW castings hide the holes. A few dozen panel nail heads gave their lives to represent carriage bolts on the stakes. Construction complete…always a good thing.


Paint, decals, some light weathering and drums glued in.


And another project goes in the “completed” category.


Reels, Drums and Spools

Flexible pipe, cable, wire if it is measured in hundreds of feet it is going to be shipped wrapped around something. Today these items are wound around reels made of plastic, metal or wood. In the manufacturing industry vernacular the terms: drum, spool or reel are interchangeable but end users generally refer to these items based on the product they carry. Thus drums carry flexible tubing and pipe or construction products like fiber-optic line, reels carry steel cable or rope and spools hold copper wire, twine or nylon cord. Another way of categorizing these is by the material they are made of: drums are plastic, spools are wood (or plywood) and reels are metal.


Since I am modeling in the 1930s and moving heavy construction supplies I will modeling wooden spools. These come in all different sizes. The ones I want will be large enough to require shipping on a flatcar so that means taller than a grown man.


Products shipped in this manner are often covered to protect against damage and theft. Anything from heavy card-stock to metal slats are used. If the reel is covered in this way it said to be “lagged” if not it is “un-lagged”. Wood or plywood boards would have been used in the thirties.


The basic design of wood spool.


First I am going to get the flatcar ready. I painted and lettered a pair of cars by Accucraft.


Spools can be shipped lying flat or standing on edge parallel or perpendicular to the direction of movement. Either way bracing is needed to keep them from rolling or shifting in transport.


I am going to ship my spools standing on edge, lined up three in a row. This means I need a large brace with multiple chocks. The one I made is not complex and is constructed from bass wood with Ozark Miniatures nut/ bolt/ washer details. It was stained and weathered then glued to the flatcar with E6K clear.flatcar8

The spools were only slightly more involved. I made the sides by gluing popsicle sticks in two apposing layers with TB3. Once they were good and dry I drew a circle on one side and then cut them on the band-saw.  Each set was paired up and sandwiched together with a 2″ foam spacer. I used the TB3 again since it will not attack the foam. Another drying session and I was ready to clean up the spools. A quick trip to the bench sander rounded the edges up nicely and smoothed the sides.


Next up was drilling the holes for my details. I needed the bolt heads and spindle to be properly spaced so I designed this template. It represents all of the bolt patterns in common use. Before printing I adjust the size of the picture to the diameter of the spool. The bolt heads represent the protruding ends of the steel rods that join the two sides of the spool together. I made sure the holes lined up by on each side by drawing an index line at one point on each side of the spool before drilling.


To make the rod ends I started with some cheap machine screws from the hardware store. The soft low grade ones are easy to work with and are just for looks so no need to buy hardened steel. I put a washer and nut on the end then cut off the head. One is glued in each of the pre-drilled holes.


Next I made the spindle guards. These began as 3/8″ squares of styrene. I cut a 1/8″ section off of one end of the Grandson’s sippie cup straws (he didn’t complain and Mrs Boomer does not need to know). The two pieces were glued together along with some small rod for bolt-heads with superglue. If I was going to make a bunch of spools I would mold these since they are such a simple shape. Once the glue cured I cleared out the hole in the middle and painted them black with rust red. These are sometimes on the spool when it is painted and sometimes added later. I modeled them both ways.


I made square guards but they can be triangular, oval or molded in as part of the plastic or metal spools.


Spools are often painted on the sides at the time of manufacture or by the shipper at the time of purchase. They are loaded with product later. This means the lagging is not painted. These paint schemes can be as simple as black printing of cover the entire side of the spool. Which is what I wanted for the color and eyepop. As early as the 1900’s spools were painted with the colors and logo of their company. Solid background  was the most common but halved or quartered were often scene.


I am basing my spools on two designs. Two of the spools will be prototype for United States Steel (wire rope used in mining) the other spool will be for a fictitious company, Dague Nelson Copper Wire (telephone cable) using  the half and half design.New Mexico just happens to be one of the few states with major copper mines so this will fit right in with my railroad. All of the spools use the same reverse stencil technique. I also made and printed labels.


With the painting done and labels attached I started on the lagging. All of the spools will be lagged. This would have been the way most commodities of the type would have been shipped and it covers the styrene foam core. The lagging is made from bass wood cut to length and glued on with TB3. A small gap was left in one spot so that became the part of the spool that would face the flatcar floor. For detail I used a fine point highlighter to dot in nail heads on the end of each board.


With that the spools were clear coated and left to dry.


The spools were attached to the flatcar with a gob E6K clear where the spool touched the flatcar floor. This area is out of site and has sufficient surface area to hold everything in place. I found some black jewelry chain at Hobby Lobby on a spool. It was the right size and way cheaper then the short lengths sold on hangers.I dry brushed it with dull silver and vomit brown then washed it with a rust stain. A clear coat of matte finish protects the weathering from abuse.


The chain was weaved through from the empty stake pockets through the spindle holes. It was tied off with a small piece of floral wire painted to match the chain.


All done. A very colorful and interesting addition to a boring old flatcar.

Ore Load

Ore loads for both the side dump and drop side gondolas were made using cork. It weighs far less than Woodland Scenics or real soil so I could fill the cars without making them weigh a ton. The side dump cars running on the mine loop use chunks of cork coaster shredded by hand into pea size. This represents large chunks coming directly out of the mine.  It is hauled around the mountain to a gravity stamp mill where it is crushed before being loaded onto the drop side gondola for the trip to the smelter. To represent the crushed ore I chose ground cork about the size of rock salt. Both loads are made the same way.

There are five loaded side dumps and one loaded drop side car on the layout although they represent many more. I started with weathering the cars. Before the paint could fly I had to do some sanding to reflect the heavy abuse ore inflicts on gondolas. The weight and jagged surface of ore tears the top edges of the cars down fast.The effect can be seen in the examples below along with damage to grab irons. The supports tend to protect the edges giving the side a wavy shape along the top.

In the beginning:

The cars were disassembled and the upper edge of the wooden sides and ends were cut down and sanded. The side dump cars were all modified to different degrees to give the impression of varying lengths of time in service. I used everything from 80 grit sandpaper to breaking the edges off with dikes. To complete the effect I rounded the top edges with 300 grit paper.

First everything was painted Cibola green and lettered.

I sealed the decals with Tree House Matte finish. When dry the sides were washed top to bottom with black stain. Next the top edge were dry brushed with dark and light grey to look like sun bleached wood. Another coat of sealer was applied and allowed to dry before the final wash of grey stain was applied.

Once everything was dry I lightly sanded down the sides with 100 grit sandpaper to knock the paint off the high edges giving the effect of pealing paint. My evil work was complete with a thin layer of rust ink on the metal hardware.


The inside of the cars would suffer the most abuse and be stripped almost clean of paint by the constant loading and unloading of ore. That means a lot of bare wood with just a little paint surviving near the top edge. I began with a heavy coat of black stain This was followed with dry brushes of dark and light grey. The brush strokes should always be top to bottom here not side to side. This is the direction the ore is traveling as well as rain and grime. The same technique is used along the top deck of the gondola where it will show around the outside.


Another coat of clear sealer was applied to protect the thin washes during reassembly. Once back together a light haze of grey paint was applied around the lower half of the car to represent road grime. I do with rattle can spray paint. The car is placed on work surface at table level outside in direct sunlight. The goal is to create a fog that is mostly dry paint which settles around the base of the car. To do this grey paint, not primer must be used. The air must be perfectly still so the paint will float and the temperature needs to be above 75 degrees. Paint is sprayed from 2-3 feet back in even strokes along the length of the car at roughly wheel level. It is definitely a case of less is more. It may not be readily visible so resist the urge to move closer to apply a heavier coat. Before moving the car apply a coat of matte sealer again. The grey paint is so fine and dry that if you touch the car before sealing it you pull the coating off and leave very distinctive fingerprints in the grime. I learned this the hard way on a boxcar which still has some swirls if you know where to look.



With the car complete and weathered it is time to add the load. While not expensive I did not wish to pour a quart of cork into every car. The bottom of the load fills the car from wall to wall so I started by gluing in a Styrofoam spacer of about a 1/2″. I used TB3 to secure it as there is no real weight involved and the glue bonds quite well to plastic without damaging it. Once the base was in mounded shapes were added to represent the slough of the ore.


Once the glue had dried the foam was painted black to insure no white showed through the relatively thin layer of ore. The ore is a mixture of ground cork, white PVA glue (3/1 mixture with water) and black paint. Everything was mixed together in a bowl and spooned into place. I used the spoon to push the ore around to get an even coating. This was a little frustrating as the cork has little weight and offer no resistance.  Patience and determination are of great benefit at this stage. it took several days for the load to dry. To finish I brushed a thick wash of dark and light grey stain over the load being careful not to hit the sides. An overnight of drying and final coat of matte sealer locked everything in place.


All done.


Since I am hauling silver ore in New Mexico a dark ruddy brown with black and gray grime is appropriate but any kind of rock ore could be modeled this way. Once the load is dry just stain it with whatever colors are appropriate. I have not tried this as coal but a careful base coat of black should be doable. Tape off the car top and finish with a coat of high gloss sealer to give the shine of anthracite or stick with the matte for bituminous.

%d bloggers like this: