Freight Car Friday – “Empty” Gondolas

16 11 2012

Gondolas present lots of interesting modeling options for the amazing variety of loads they carry. But an “empty” gondola can be just as much fun! That’s because most empty cars aren’t completely empty after all.

wood debris

One of the more common finds in empty cars is left-over bracing from previous loads. This can include wood, steel bands, and more. It is easy to recreate with scraps of scale lumber.

This week we’ll take a look at some interesting empty finds that may inspire you to add some details to your fleet of gons. These little treasures add a fun discovery to a passing train for the observant watcher.

close up

Here is a closer view of some of this discarded packing. Also take notice of the extreme wear on the inside of the gondola. The side sheets have bulged out and completely separated from the floor. Some steel angles have been welded to the posts to prevent further damage and the entire interior has taken a rusty color – easy to recreate with some of the weathering techniques we’ve shown this month.

You could also use the technique described in our modeling covered loads blog to build a false floor and replace your “empty” car with an equally interesting load.

load debris

Another common remnant in empty cars comes from the load itself. This car has a nice coating of dust and aggregate to complement the beaten look of the interior. You could recreate this with some fine ballast, plaster or even cement mix.

You can click on any of the images here to get a larger view to help your modeling. What details have you added to your empty cars?


Here’s a car that has been hauling new railroad ties for many years. The walls and floor are coated in black creosote and the floor is completely covered with wood splinters. You could easily recreate this look with some sawdust or pencil shavings and a can of black spray paint. Just mask the exterior of the car first.



Here’s another tie car – this one was rebuilt from an old pulpwood car. Like the previous gon, the interior is blackened with creosote and the floor is likely covered with wood too – somewhere under that massive puddle of murky water! Usually water will find a way out of a gondola before accumulating like this, but what a neat look it would be on a model.



This car might be more interesting empty than loaded! The large rack is used to support steel sheets on an angle. Otherwise they would be too wide to ship by rail. The floor of the car is also strewn with discarded banding from previous loads. This is common for many steel shipments. The rack could be fabricated from plastic or brass shapes. Thin strips of electrical tape could make respectable bands.


Living Load

If you don’t have a load, grow your own! This car has obviously been parked somewhere for a while. Likely used in company service collecting sediment, the car has fostered its own ecosystem. Live loads like this also occasionally sprout on top of covered hoppers used in grain service. Any of the scenery products available could be used to recreate this look. The most extreme example I’ve seen was an old gondola used in maintenance service; a tree had grown so large in the car itself that it set off a high / wide clearance detector. That was an interesting radio conversation!



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