Nothing could be more simple than a flatcar. There are also few other cars capable of hauling as many different loads. The basic flatcar can be modified in many ways for better handling of specific cargo, from trailer hitches to bulkheads to lowered decks. We’ll cover all of those in upcoming weeks, but for now lets look at the plain old general service flatcar.
The basic design of the flatcar has changed very little since the earliest days of railroading. Aside from length and construction materials, the only major evolutions have been in trucks, appliances and sidesill designs. These alterations generally followed the same patterns of other types of equipment. This is good news for modelers since cars in service in the 1950s do not appear greatly different from those built 30 years earlier.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with an empty flatcar, the real appeal for many of us is the open stage they provide for interesting loads. What can you put on a flatcar? Better yet, what can’t you put on a flatcar? Lumber, construction equipment, steel, military vehicles, wrecked railroad cars, machinery…if it won’t fit on anything else, you can always put it on a flatcar.
Adding interesting loads to your flatcars takes only a little imagination. A little knowledge about how these cars are loaded and how the loads are secured doesn’t hurt either. Most loads are simply set on top of a flatcar and shipped. They must be braced and tied down to prevent shifting during the ride. Often these restraints can be simulated with scraps of wood, thread or even scale chain. Large tarps are also sometimes used to protect a load from the elements – plastic bags make good starting points. These little touches cost almost nothing and can make any load more realistic. A few left-over ropes and blocks from the last load can even improve an empty car.