Flatcars are, at their core, one of the most basic and simple types of freight cars. But they are also one of the most specialized vehicles on the rails today.
General purpose flatcars come in a variety of lengths. Additional equipment like bulkheads, center support beams and multi-level racks for carrying automobiles can really change the look of the basic flatcar. Then there are the specialized cars for oversized loads and intermodal traffic.
For modelers, flatcars offer great modeling potential... not only for their own variety but also the loads they carry.
Every model railroad could use an assortment of flatcars. Here are some product reviews, modeling tips and prototype photos to help you choose the right cars for your layout, make them accurate and put them in the right roles for your operating sessions.
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The best way to learn about or model any freight car is to start by studying the prototype. These photos present a good overview of some distinctive flatcar variations.
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These Blackstone HOn3 flatcars represent a flat in its most basic form. These beautiful models also prove that even a "simple" prototype can be recreated in amazing detail and become a show-stopping model.
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89' TOFC Flatcars
The growth of intermodal transport beginning in the 1950s saw a dramatic rise in the number of flatcars in service on the railroads. By the late 1960s, the 89' flatcar had become the standard design. Despite commonalities, there were many variations between builders and even trailer and container hitch arrangements which makes modeling these cars and these trains much more interesting. Here are some common 89' prototypes which have been reviewed in model form here:
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178' Long Runner Flatcars
As trailers grew, even the 89' flatcar wasn't a big enough platform. While the intermodal carrier evolved into well and spine cars, older flatcars were recycled into paired cars joined with a drawbar. This allows two cars to carry three modern trailers instead of only two. This is a very easy conversion to do for modelers as well.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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89' After Intermodal
As the spine and well cars took over hauling trailers and containers, many 89' cars found other roles hauling pipe, rail, steel and machinery.
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The addition of taller ends and a raised center beam have made transporting lumber much safer. Loads are stacked on either side of the car. The only challenge is that cars must be loaded and unloaded from both sides simultaneously to maintain balance - something to consider when you lay out your modern industries.
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Detail an Empty Center Beam
Center beam cars are just as interesting loaded or empty. An empty model can be greatly enhanced with the addition of tie down straps and a little weathering. These simple techniques will work with any model in any scale.
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Flatcars are most useful for large loads that won't fit in a boxcar. For extremely large loads, even the flatcar sometimes needs modification. Depressed center cars provide a few extra inches of critical height for clearing tunnels and bridges.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Empty or loaded, these unique cars are going to grab some attention on your layout. Take some time to go the extra mile on their details to really make them shine. Here are some simple additions to improve a Walthers HO model - techniques that will work on many models.
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With their enclosed sides, end doors and roofs, a modern autorack hardly looks like a flatcar. But all of that superstructure is build upon a flatcar.
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The best part about modeling flatcars is their potential to become very interesting freight cars. To prove the point, follow this conversion of a simple flatcar kit with some weathering, extra details and a load recycled from an old printer. Total cost of this project - less than $10!
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The loads we put on flatcars are often more interesting and challenging projects than the cars themselves. Check out these pages for ideas on loads to model and ways to mount them to your flats.