Freight Car Friday – Adding Pipe Loads to Flatcars and Gondolas

11 10 2013

We’ve shown several easy and inexpensive homemade loads already here on the blog. Now that you’ve just upgraded the deck of your flatcar, here’s another common prototype load that you can model. This is a fun one-evening project that will really help your freight car stand out.

Pipe Loads

pipe load

Pipe loads come in many varieties. The white banding stands out nicely against this black pipe. Note the blocking between pipes and grouping of the load.

Pipe comes in a huge variety of colors, diameters, lengths and materials. They can be loaded on flatcars or gondolas. Cars with a bulkhead are often preferred to prevent damage to neighboring cars if the load should shift in transit. But you will find plenty of examples of pipe in all sizes traveling on traditional cars as well. These loads would be handled with some care and probably not placed next to a dangerous load of hazardous materials.

Since there are so many varieties of pipe, there are many options when it comes to modeling it.  For steel pipe, drinking straws and stirrers make some of the best starting points. Available in several diameters, straws are already about the right length for a typical O Gauge car and they have a very thin profile (much more to scale than plastic structural tubing.) Also, you can’t beat the price!

Transforming straws into pipe is usually just a matter of paint. Black, gray, orange and “industrial green” are all common colors. You may find it easier to paint the load after you have glued your stacks of pipe together. More on this shortly.


Corrugated pipe takes a little more work, but the materials are cheap and techniques are easy to learn.

For corrugated piping, you can use the aluminum foil molding trick we’ve shown in previous articles as well. By gently pressing it against a form, you can recreate almost any shape in aluminum foil. We’ve used it for corrugated roofing and siding in our bone yard. It was also used to make culverts for some of our modules. The technique is the same for full lengths of pipe. All you need is the form – in this case a bolt – of whatever diameter you desire for your pipe.

  • Cut the foil into a rectangle of your desired length and a width long enough for one to two complete wraps around the bolt. A little overlap will and strength.
  • Smooth the foil on a hard, flat surface.
  • Wrap it around the bolt, keeping the ends square.
  • Use your fingernail to press the foil into the threads. Be careful not to press too hard and tear the foil.
  • When done, simply twist the bolt out of the new aluminum sleeve. Presto! You have a corrugated pipe.

If you mess up on a few attempts, don’t be discouraged. These can be used in scenes around the layout on construction sites, culverts, or for the really bad ones, scrap yards.

Making the Load


Secure the banding on the bottom of the load. White glue holds everything together. Give yourself enough time for the glue to dry.

Now that you have your pipes, the next step is to turn them into a realistic load. Working from a good prototype photo is a huge help in figuring out how to stack and tie down the pipes. In most cases, the pipes aren’t simply piled on the car and then secured with a single line around the entire bundle. First they are bunched in groups and banded together. These banded bunches are then banded to each other. And finally the entire load is secured to the car.

Black thread will work well to simulate the banding. Begin by bunching an appropriate number of pipes together. Glue the pipes together where the adhesive won’t be seen. The bands are just for show.


Small wood strips make easy stakes to help secure the load. Notice the stakes are loose – they will be secured to the load and will lift out easily if the car needs to run empty or carry something new.

For plastic straws, use plastic cement. There are many different types of plastic and depending on which glue and which plastic you have you may get a strong bond, nothing, or melted straws. Test yours first. If you don’t have a plastic cement that will do, just use white glue. White glue can also be used on the aluminum foil pipes. While working with these corrugated pipes, it can be helpful to slide a straw or dowel rod down the center to help maintain their form and give some added strength.

After you’ve glued each group of pipes together, band them with the black thread. Again, you can hide the ends of the thread toward the middle of the load. Here is where those prototype pictures come in!

Next you can glue and band the groups together just as you did with the individual pipes. It is easiest to stack your load upside down on the workbench so you can hide the ends of your tie downs on the underside of the load.

Securing the Load to the Car


The completed load is a nice complement to the weathered deck we made last week. Even with black-on-black, the tie downs and stakes add a lot of detail.

When it comes to securing the load to the car, you have several options. If you don’t plan to remove the load in the future, you can simply glue it, along with any extra stakes and tie-downs, to the deck of the car. For a removable load you’ll want to do a little more work.

For gondolas, you can glue the load to a false floor as was shown with our tarped machinery load. This floor will be a little more obvious on a flatcar. Here, consider using wood stakes to secure the load. For best results, build this in place on the car. Place the wood stakes in the pockets on the sides of the flatcar (you do not want a tight fit.) Carefully glue them to the load – but not the car.

Once the glue has set, you’ll be able to lift the load and stakes off of the car. It can be helpful to write the type of car the load will fit on the bottom of the load itself.

If you don’t count the drying time for the paint and glue, this entire project can be easily completed in an evening. If you plan ahead, you could build several loads at once working only a few minutes each evening. Next week we’ll work on some new loads for your hoppers and gondolas.



5 responses

11 10 2013
Louis Bruette

Fantastic article, thank you very much!

11 10 2013
Andrew Falconer

What was delivered to a railroad siding in the area last year were 89′ flat cars with Pipes coated in green on the outside and black on the inside. The 89′ flat cars used for the Auto Racks can carry loads of 80′ long pipes.

12 10 2013

Are PVC pipes ever shipped by rail? Just asking because there’s a big PVC pipe plant in my neighborhood that gets covered hoppers full of plastic inbound, but only ships the actual pipe by truck. Is this the case every where? I’ve yet to see PVC on a flat car, but you never know…

14 10 2013

I’ve never seen it either, but it is certainly possible. Given the light weight of PVC pipe, trucks probably offer a much more economical vehicle. A boxcar or gondola would be filled to its cubic capacity long before its weight limit were reached, and that is a lot of PVC pipe.

18 10 2013

good point, thanks!

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