Christopher Brimley updated December 8, 2010


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  • Making Loads For Gondolas & Flat Cars

    Making Loads For Gondolas & Flat Cars

    By Christopher Brimley

    Flatcars and gondolas always seem to lack something when you take them out of the box. They need a little weathering so they are not so new and glossy, and they seem to be screaming for a load. After all, that is what they are for -- flatcars and gondolas are your workhorse freight cars carrying an endless amounts of items. Other then a hopper, all other freight cars are closed and the loads generally unknown. I find it a treat when a manifest train goes by and the monotony of covered hoppers or boxcars is broken up by a flat car with a brand new front end loader. The loads add something different and unique, and on a layout are usually one of the first things my eye is drawn to on a moving train.

    Adding loads can be as simple or as challenging as you want. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of fantastic commercially-made loads in all scales that can be easily added to your layout. You can find anything from lumber, pipes, beams, scrap metal, cars, generators, AC units, gravel, and so much more. For a few select cars, I like to build custom loads that are challenging, but not too difficult to complete. Unique loads are not all that common so don’t do too many, because you will push that realism envelope too far. But a few here and there will be perfect. Also, don’t forget that more empties than loads may be more prototypical for your layout. 

    Flat Car Load

    While I was doing research looking for loads that caught my eye, I found a photo of a flat car that had a used an abused 40’ boxcar strapped to the deck with one truck to go along with it. It didn’t look like it had been wrecked, just old, out of shape, and unable to be safely moved. I assumed it was purchased or donated to a museum or private individual. I liked the challenge that this photo brought to the table. I would have to heavily weather a boxcar, build some basic blocking, and strap it down.

    For the flat car, I decided to use an InterMountain EJ&E 60’ Wood Deck Flat. I really like this car because it has a laser-cut deck, instead of the traditional plastic or metal. While I didn't, you can easily remove boards to match many prototypes.

    I started by weathering the flat car before I did anything with the load. I stained the decking with a mix of India ink diluted into alcohol. The first coat went on a little lighter than I would have liked, so I added on a few other coats to darken it. The sides and ends of the car were given a wash of boxcar red to fade the paint down and to knock down the shine. I added a few spots of rust, but I kept it very light. I then went on and weathered the underside of the car, trucks, wheels, and couplers with various paints and powders.

    With the flat car finished, it was time to start on the load. I purchased an undecorated Kadee 40’ PS-1 boxcar to use as the load. This is a finely-detailed boxcar that can be purchased for a very reasonable amount. I could have used a cheap boxcar purchased for a few dollars at a swap meet, but I wanted to make sure the details were well done. Namely, the roof walks, grab irons, ladders, and trucks.

    The boxcar needed a heavy amount of weathering and I needed to build it up in layers. The first step was to knock down the sheen by lightly spraying the car with boxcar red. I then gently removed the ladders from the car. There were no reporting marks on the prototype, so I didn’t bother adding any to my model. I did, however, mask off a part of the car where the paint would be a little newer because the reporting marks had been painted over.

    Next, I used a grey color to paint on what looked like large sections of where the paint had peeled off on the roof. I did this randomly, but it looked like it was more concentrated under the roof walk. I then took some diluted white paint and dabbed it on the top of the sides and let gravity naturally let it run down. This gave the model some nice looking stains on the sides. I then dusted the car with some pastels to further lighten the paint and to darken the ends. I sprayed the car with some dullcote to seal in what work had been done.

    I then removed the small piece of masking tape and put down a much larger piece on top of it to look like further painting was done to the car. I added the rust marks by dabbing on raw umber artist acrylics with a foam brush. (If this step sounds familiar to some, it is the same method that Mr. Monsterrailroad, Al Mayo uses on his rolling stock -- it works very well.) I scribed in a few gouges that had been worn in by the door using a dull hobby knife to scratch these in. With a fine brush, I painted them with the same raw umber I used for the rust. To then highlight the rust, I dabbed on some raw sienna on top of the umber.

    This next weathering trick is something I love to use, but it can be unpredictable. Because of the unpredictability, you get some great natural looking weathering patterns. As noted before, I sprayed the boxcar with dullcote. Next, I gave the car a liberal wash of India ink in rubbing alcohol. What happens next is a chemical reaction between the wash and the dullcote. You would think that you would get a dark and dirty color because of the India ink, but you don’t -- it goes white! It also doesn’t go white evenly; it is a little blotchy and scattered. I get the best looking sun-faded paint this way. If it goes horribly wrong, you can correct it by using pastels on or just spraying another coat of dullcote over your work. I finished of the boxcar by weathering the ladders, couplers, and underframe of the car.

    To mount the boxcar to the deck, I glued some strip basswood to the underside of the frame. I layered it until all of the break details cleared the deck. On the prototype, the stirrups on all four corners had been removed, so I followed and cut them off. I also cut off the coupler pin, as it was too long and unnecessary. I decided to permanently fix the the boxcar to the deck so I could add rigging. If you want to be able to remove the load for operations, then I would skip this next step. Glue was added to the basswood that was added to the boxcar, I then attached the two cars to each other.

    On the prototype to secure the boxcar to the flat car, there were brackets that looked to have been welded to the side of the boxcar. I needed to make eight of these to properly match and I just needed something simple. I drilled a hole that was about .015” in diameter into the end of a strip of .010x .040” styrene. I cut of the little square that has the hole in it and glued it to a square piece of .010x .060” strip styrene. I then glued on a second piece with a hole in it to the .060” square. Once the glue set up, I fed a piece of brass wire through the hole and glued it into position with CA or super glue. When the whole assembly was dried, I cut the brass wire flush with the sides and painted it orange and dirtied them up with pastels. I glued them to the side of the boxcar at an angle that closely lined up to where the tie downs were located.

    In the photo a cable was used to tie down the boxcar, so I decided to use a thin .008” wire. I painted it a black and glued the lengths of wire into place. While this worked and pulled off the over all effect, I wasn’t very happy with the results and may try something different in the future.

    To add the truck to the deck, I first positioned it in my preferred spot. Next, I cut pieces of basswood so one side had an angle on one side to chalk the wheels into position. I then glued the blocks down. The straps are just .010” x. 020” strip styrene painted red and aged with a wash of black paint. I glued the straps into each tie down position and finishing off the flat car load.


    Gondola Load

    The load I decided to do for the gondola was a much simpler and more common style load than a boxcar. I chose to do a load of 60’ poles. I guess you could call them power poles, but there is a major flaw with doing so … power poles are tapered. Not having the time, nor the patience, to gently taper 35 poles, I decided to bite the bullet and have them represent power poles.

    For this load I chose to use an ExactRail TTX Thrall 3564 Cubic Foot Gondola. I primarily chose it for its length, and I wanted a modern gondola, so this was a perfect match.

    Like the flat car, I needed to weather the gondola before I could begin on the load. After studying a few photos of the prototype of this car, the vast majority were in very good shape, so I decided to follow. I went ahead and rusted up the interior of the gondola. First, I masked off the sides to prevent any over spray. Next, I sprayed it lightly with a rust-colored paint. After that dried I started to attack it with various colors of pastels. I wasn’t super concerned with how it all came out because very little would be visible. Next, I weathered the trucks and couplers. To finish off the car, I gave it a very light dusting with pastels on the sides and a little heavier on the ends.

    I decided to use 3/16” dowels for the pole load, I cut them down to 60 scale foot lengths first. Next, I gave them all a wash with a diluted oxide brown paint. This was a little too red for my taste, so I then gave them all a wash with india ink/alcohol.

    I wanted to extend the load beyond the top of the gondola, so I cut some 1/16” strip basswood to the length I needed and glued them into place. I then added the poles -- each layer was five poles wide, and I added a little white glue between each layer to hold them into place. Once the poles were all in position, I added the bands to hold the load together. I used .010” x .020” strip styrene painted black. I added bands that wrapped around the posts, keeping them from spreading. I also added a few keeping the load together.


    Even though I showed you how to do only two loads, we have many articles in our magazines that we have added thus far that can show you how to build other styles. I hope this has been helpful for you in some way and will help you build more prototypical trains.


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  • Bryan Busséy
    Bryan Busséy Nice boxcar load. When are you making the N scale version?
    December 9, 2010
  • Christopher Brimley
    Christopher Brimley I don't know. I have a few flat cars and gons that will need loads for my layout because I have a team track. However I wont be doing the boxcar load in N Scale for some time.
    December 9, 2010
  • Gary Barnett
    Gary Barnett Awsome!
    Gary Barnett
    Watertown, NY
    January 8, 2011
  • Bart Overton
    Bart Overton Chris, This is a very good article. I have made may car loads one of which is made with a proto 2000 flat car and a Norscot 'Cat 966G Series II Wheel Loader' that was completlly disassembled and placed on the car in verious pieces. I would like to see so...  more
    February 2, 2011