The Val Ease Central Railroad

Taking Z Scale to the Public Around the World
(Text and photos Copyright Jeffrey MacHan)


Workin' On The Railroad: Open LoadZ

Over the course of many previous articles we've worked hard to get the layout up and running. The track work is laid, ballasted and weathered. The switches are fine tuned and the Big Black Boxes (BBB) are camouflaged. The scenery is contoured, textured, and trees have been planted. Roadways lead to industries and towns and cities (real or suggested) have come into existence on our empires. Trains are running hither and yon. This has been great fun but there's more we can do to create the feeling of a miniature railroad.

As you know, operations takes into account traffic generated on the railroad and car movements to and from our Z customers. Relax, I don't plan to go into the intricacies of model railroad operations in this article. Whew, that was close! However, one way we can move toward transforming our hard won layout into a railroad is to add a variety of freight traffic running over our trackage. We can do that with imagination and a few standard flat cars, bulk end flats and gondolas.

Adding a variety of loads to our freight cars is like decorating a blank wall. Different loads make our trains more interesting and will help us imagine the industries generating traffic through the railroad. Keep in mind that industries 'off layout' can be a major source of interesting traffic flowing over your rails.

Let's consider some loads that are easy to assemble from readily obtainable materials and which may serve as inspiration for your own traffic ideas.

Open Flat and Bulk End Flat Car Loads

Flat cars will carry anything that can be secured to the floor by cable and chain. Loading can be done by crane, fork lift or via the load's own power such as vehicles. Unloading of flats can be done wherever there is a team track (a track siding with vehicular access to the freight car).

Many types of loads can be made with plastic structural parts, tubing and miniatures from non railroad sources. Here are just a few examples of flat car loads:

- rail lengths cut from code 40 rails or plastic shapes
- steel coils from straws painted silver and rusted or pieces cut from aluminum tubing
- machinery of all types
- construction equipment (eg. caterpillars, graders, tractors etc.)
- military vehicles and parts
- railroad themed freight (eg. that tank from a wrecked tank car)
- tarpaulin covered freight
- cut stone blocks such as granite and limestone, slabs of scrap styrofoam painted gray, off white and dirtied - industrial parts (chemical factory parts) which can be improvised with odd shapes of styrene
- piping of different diameters and colors
- wrapped and unwrapped lumber are common loads delivered on bulk end flatcars
- metal ingots in blocks or cylinders

Cast pewter caterpillars make a great and easy industrial equipment load.
Dollar store toy shelves often provide material for flat car loads such as this close-to-Z modern tank.
Styrene shapes and a little imagination can produce an interesting industrial load for a bulk-end flat car.
Plastic straws of different sizes can make piping loads for a bulk-end flat cars.
Gondola Loads

Gondolas are used most often for loads that are loose and can not be unloaded by forklifts. Loading and unloading can be accomplished by grappling hook, front end loader (for drop end gondolas), rotary unloaders (coal etc.), excavators and buckets.

- commercial loads from various sources: scrap metal, bulk minerals (coal, gravel, sulfur)
- telephone and telegraph poles
- pulp wood
- bulk minerals of the home made variety
- agricultural products such as sugar beets
and the list goes on...

Commercial producers of loads offer a variety of loads for flats, gondolas and bulk-end flat cars. This set is from Arizona Freight House.
This crushed stone load was made by BL Products.
When modelling a gondola load you don't have to fill the entire car with material. Try using a piece of styrofoam or piece of sponge cut to fit the interior of the car. Glue the load material on the top visible part of the filler piece then paint and weather to suit.

The point of this article is to encourage you to bring your miniature creation to life. Adding color and variety of car loads will take a layout one step closer to a railroad and add visual texture to the entire scene. A word of warning is in order however. As you discover new load ideas, you'll quickly discover that your roster is sorely lacking in flat cars and gondolas.

This custom-decorated Val Ease Central RR three-bay hopper from Pennzee comes complete with a coal load. The load can be removed by gently slipping a pin with a bent tip between the load and the car side. Turn the pin so that the hooked tip catches on the load and pull. The load is press fit and will come out with a little encouragement. The cars need extra weight to run satisfactorily anyway. Then the original loads can be replaced, repainted, covered with real coal dust or replaced with other materials.

Don't look for perfection, perfect the look!