This page details how I construct custom flatcar lumber loads for my model railway. While significantly more work than a pre-made molded and painted or printed resin or plastic load, the result is a more realistic looking three dimensional load with actual spacers and gaps between rows and strapping. It also avoids the cookie cutter look by making every load a little unique from each other by varying the exact combination of bundle sizes and the locations of any gaps or spaces in the rows. It also means I’m not limited to whatever larger lumber companies are featured on commercially available lumber loads, and I have lumber graphics specific to the smaller mills that were actually served by my railway.
Printable graphics for several different lumber companies are provided at the bottom of this page, below the instructions. Feel free to print these and use them to create your own loads. (In fact if you do, I’d love to see them!) There’s also a blank template for which you can create your own graphics or download company logos from online to make your own variations.
The general technique can also be adjusted with different size blocks to model wrapped engineered joist and drywall loads.
- Choose a nice, piece of wood, preferably a good quality scrap of pine, with no warps and square edges.
- Rip into strips on a table saw, 13mm* wide (4 scale feet) by 8.5mm tall for standard 2 1/2′ tall bundles. (Fits four rows to a car.)
Some bundles are wrapped to 2′ (5 rows) and 3 1/2′ (3 rows) heights.
- Cut the strips into blocks matching the bundle lengths.
- 8′ studs (28 mm)
- 10′ studs (35 mm)
- 12′ studs (42 mm)
- 16′ studs (58 mm)
- Sand any burrs and splinters from the edges.
*HO scale measurements.
- Print out the selected graphics file on regular white paper.
- The printed graphics show black marks at each end; use this as a guide to cut out the graphics into strips using a sharp hobby knife and straightedge
- Cut the strips to length with a small square to wrap the various sized blocks.
- 8′ (44 mm)
- 10′ (51 mm)
- 12′ (58 mm)
- 16′ (72 mm)
- Apply glue to the back (un-printed) side of the paper wrap using a standard craft glue stick.
- Center a wood block of the matching size on the edge of the long side of the paper and press down.
- Fold the wrap over the long sides of the block, making sure it glues down securely. Use your fingers to get a sharp crease in the corner of the paper that extends out past the end of the block.
- Using a sharp hobby knife, cut along the inside of the folded corner beyond to separate the sides and top of the overhanging wrap into separate flaps.
- Fold the side flaps in first. (Re-apply glue if necessary.)
- Fold down the top flap over the end. (Re-apply glue if necessary.)
- If the paper wrap extends below the bottom surface of the block, trim flush with sharp knife to complete.
Note: Spend some time studying older photos of lumber loads on standard flatcars or this actual Conrail reference guide to see how the bundles are staggered and strapped together. In the model world, the load is all glued together, but in the real world it’s all held together with strapping, so the bundles are staggered so that bundles beside each other are connected by being strapped to the one above or below. At minimum, each end of any bundle should be strapped to one above or below it.
For modern centre-beam cars, the central truss structure and ratchet & cable tie downs standard to the car means the bundles can be stacked and secured with no staggering, although some staggering may still occur when different lengths of lumber are included in the same load.
- Cut the bearing pieces for the bottom of the load, short spacers for between the rows and longer ones for between the halves of the stack from scale strip wood. I used 2×6 strip wood for my spacers, but mills might use various stud sizes from 2x4s to 4x4s. The diagrams in the Conrail reference guide linked above show either 2×4 or 2×6 pieces as standard to use for these spacers.
The bearing pieces (bottom spacers) should be the width of the car. Short spacers between levels can be just the width of the lumber bundle. The vertical stabilizers/spacers should be about 10 scale feet, or a little taller than the stack of bundles.
- Glue the small spacers to the bottoms of the lumber bundles with white glue, except for the bottom row which should rest on the longer bearing pieces.
- Assemble the bottom row by gluing bundles together end to end. Use glue sparingly. Make sure the row stays straight.
(Assembly of the bundles may be done on the car in question to ensure a good fit. Avoid glue drops or place a piece of waxed paper on the flatcar deck to protect. Don’t glue bundles directly to the car – the load will be removeable when done.)
- Assemble the second, third and fourth rows as above, gluing them to the top of the lower row. You may assemble each side independently, or at the same time, gluing the bundles to the vertical centre spacers.
- Let the glue dry before moving to the last step.
- The strapping on the model load is represented with 1/64″ wide black Chartpak graphics tape (obtained online from an art/graphics supply store), which actually roughly scales out to about 1.5″ wide, not too oversize. I applied this after the load was assembled and glued together using tweezers and a pin to insert the tape in between the layers. Apply a drop of glue with a pin or thin toothpick in a hidden place if necessary to secure the tape, so the natural adhesive doesn’t loosen.
- Add the guide rails along the sides of the loads; these should be out of 2×6″ stripwood and will be glued to the tops of the extensions of the bearing pieces that stick out beyond the sides of the bundles.
Related Blog Posts
- Wrapped Lumber Bundle
- Assembled Newaygo Load
- Conrail Lumber Loading Reference Guide
- Lumber Traffic on the ACR
Printable Lumber Wrap Graphics
Unless specifically stated, all graphics are sized for printing for HO scale 2 1/2′ tall bundles although you can play around with your own graphics and logos to print out wraps for larger or smaller bundles. To ensure that the graphics are printed the correct size, make sure the “Print Actual Size” option is selected in the printing options. (Note – The PDF viewer built into Edge on Windows 10 doesn’t have the “Print actual-size” option and will always shrink to fit. The alternative Reader app also has the same problem. If you’re on Windows 10, either use the Excel spreadsheet files, or download and install the actual Adobe Acrobat Reader app, so you have full control over scaling when printing.)
Note: I’ve noticed some possible issues with Internet Explorer trying to download the XLSX links. Not sure why, since it’s just a link to an Excel file and Microsoft’s own browser should understand that. If you do get a page of gibberish clicking on one of those links, try an alternate browser like Chrome or FireFox. That seems to work.
Dates in the listings below preceded with ‘~’ may be approximated based on photographic sightings, and may be applicable for a larger date range than stated.
Blank Excel Template
XLSX (HO scale 2’0″ bundle height – 5 rows)
XLSX (HO scale 3’6″ bundle height – 3 rows)
Company Graphics By Region
- Maritimes (including Gaspe Penninsula)
- North-Eastern Quebec (north of St. Lawrence R)
- Southern Quebec (south of St. Lawrence R)
- Ontario and North-West Quebec
- Central Canada (Manitoba & Saskatchewan)
- Western Canada (B.C. and Alberta)
- Canada-Wide & International (generally larger companies)
- United States