Build Log: Flat Car Load – Reels, Spools and Drums

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.

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