Freight Car Friday #75 – WC 237703

WC 237703 (ex AC 2489 nee NAFX 53201) westbound with a load of northern Ontario logs at Sarnia, ON August 2, 2021

Since sprint of 2020, when CN mothballed the former Algoma Central line between Sault Ste. Marie and Hawk Junction (no freight has run south of Hawk since April 2020) loads of pulpwood in AC/WC flatcars have been a relatively common sight running through southern Ontario on Toronto to Chicago train M397. A log loading operation at Mead (former location of the old Newaygo sawmill that operated between 1974-85) is one of the only major customers on the former AC line, and with the line unused south of Hawk these loads take the long route to northern Michigan/Wisconsin via Toronto and Chicago.

It’s not uncommon to actually see AC-marked pulpwood cars mixed in with the WC ones – most of the AC 238100, 238400, and 238500 series cars are still active – but this WC car in particular happened to catch my eye out of a block of nine loaded WC cars on August 2nd’s CN M397 through my hometown of Sarnia.

The WC 237000-238000 series of converted pulpwood flatcars is a wild range of old flatcars from many previous CN-family (mostly DWC and BCOL, but also other former CN and WC cars) rebuilt and renumbered with very little organization to what prior groups the cars are pulled from, just renumbered into the series as they’re converted.

The orange colour of WC 237703, and some of the paint patchwork underneath the most recent patches for the new WC number and the log bunks suggested a North American Car Co. (NAFX) heritage – likely via AC 2476-2494 series. Some cooperation on facebook with a couple of guys with access to the UMLER (Universal Machine Language Equipment Register) – the common electronic equipment database used by North America’s railways – helped confirm that the previous identity of WC 237703 was in fact AC 2489, and its original number before being acquired by the Algoma Central (in 1994) was NAFX 53201 (from NAFX series 53200-53249).

Freight Car Friday #74 – CP 305560 Model

This unique Canadian Pacific skeleton flat is a new model I just finished* this week.

*(Assembly, paint and decals; still needs clear coat and weathering.)

The model is a Custom Finishing kit, which is made up of a series of soft metal (pewter) casting. After cleaning up all the parts with a fine file, and drilling holes for grab irons and truck and coupler box mounting screws, the model was assembled per the kit instructions using two part epoxy to glue the major parts together. As there’s barely a dozen pieces, it’s actually a very easy and straightforward build. I also drilled through the joint at each end between the main spine of the car and the end platforms and pinned it with a short piece of wire to reinforce the joint, so that the main structural pieces aren’t only held together by the epoxy. One extra addition I made was to apply 1×10 plates for the KarTrack ACI barcode labels on the right-most stake on each side, and I also drilled holes in the end sills to mount Kadee #438 air hoses.

With the assembly completed, the model was airbrushed black and lettered with decals from Black Cat Publishing specifically for this car. ACI labels came from a MicroScale set, and a couple of missing elements (“Plate C” marking and NSC builder’s logo) were added from a Highball CP Rail flatcar set.

The prototype for this car is one of 50 cars built in September 1968 by National Steel Car as CP 305560-305609. (Another 300 identical cars were built for Pacific Great Eastern in two batches in 1966 and 1968.) The cars were designed for use transporting full length logs and poles.

I’ve heard some mention of shipments of telephone poles to the Sault Public Utilities Commission; I’m not sure where such shipments would be unloaded, but all that is needed is a team track with a driveway beside it. Whether such movements actually happened with any regularity, the “rule of cool” applies here a little as well, and that’s what the waybill for this car will show when it runs on my eventual layout.

Just need to make a (removable) pole load for this car now…

Pulpwood Loads/Jigs

As I may have mentioned a few times on this blog, pulpwood logs are a significant traffic item on the Algoma Central, and a type of load I’ll need quite a supply of for my flatcars and gondolas. I’ve been doing some playing around and simulating with some car cards and waybills and I figure on using anywhere from 15-20 pulpwood loads during a future operating session (when I have a layout to actually operate on some day), and these loads can be moved in at least five different types of cars (52′ flatcars, 40′ flatcars, 52′ gondolas, 61′ gondolas, 48′ gondolas), so I need a lot of loads and several different types of loads.

While there are some cast resin or plastic loads that you can get to fit certain models, they won’t fit some of the customized cars I have, and I’ve never really seen one made for a standard gondola. Moreover, just nothing looks as good as a load made of real logs.

Fortunately these aren’t too complicated to make, collecting real twigs of an appropriate size and cutting them to length. (If you – or a friend – has a bandsaw, cutting a lot of them very quickly is a breeze.) Really the trickiest part is selecting good twigs that are nice and straight so you can actually get a lot of logs out of them without “wasting” most of it.

Pulp logs in northern Ontario are typically cut to ~8′ lengths. This is a perfect size for loading crosswise in bulkhead flatcars and gondolas (with usually a 9′-9’6″ inside loading width) and purpose-built flatcars (or rebuilt/modified from plain bulkhead flatcars) for pulpwood service with side stakes have the stakes evenly spaced out for logs of this size. Once the “logs” are cut, they’re just stacked up on the cars. On the prototype, gravity and the friction of the rough surfaces of the logs is usually enough to keep everything in place (although trains carrying pulpwood loads “without side stakes and chains” are often subjected to speed restrictions and ACR timetables included special footnotes in the Special Instructions section to keep a close watch for shifted or protruding logs en route so it obviously isn’t 100% perfect and an obvious reason why the side-stake cars really took over in popularity.) On the model these physics don’t quite scale the same way, and we can make it much easier to load and unload the cars by gluing the logs together into a solid load.

To make it a bit easier to work on making some of these loads, I spent a little time in the workshop this week and tossed together some sheet styrene fixtures to the exact loading dimensions of some of my common car types for pulpwood service. This lets me assemble and glue together some loads on the workbench without banging actual cars around and risking damaging their details or getting glue on them. (And white glue peels right off the styrene when dry so a bit of liberal over-use is no bad thing when building in the fixture.)

Assembly fixtures for 52’8″ bulkhead flat, 52’6″ mill gondola, 40′ pulpwood flatcar. The flatcar load at top was previously a load for a kitbashed 51′ flatcar at the club which got dropped on the floor and turned into several pieces to be re-assembled. The missing area at the one end and a few gaps at the bottom still need to be filled in here

52′ flatcar load completed in assembly fixture

Finished load on Walthers 52’8″ bulkhead flatcar

Finished load in Rapido 52’6″ gondola. Note vertical logs at ends to extend the height of the load. This was a common practice for loading pulpwood in gondolas.

Next steps: collect and cut a LOT more branches. I have three loads completed and I’m out of logs. I need at least 15-20 more to cover my eventual needs. Maybe more spread out across all the possible car types just so I have enough if the mix of loaded car types changes session to session (e.g more 52′ flatcars one session, more 61′ gondolas the next).

Freight Car Friday #59 – GROX 50008

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GROX 50008 is an example of the pulpwood flatcars commonly seen around log sidings on the former ACR currently. Most of the cars I saw were either these GROX cars or cars with VRSX reporting marks, which were even more commonly. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get photos of any of the VRSX cars from the train.

This empty flatcar was caught at Hawk Junction on July 19, 2017

Freight Car Friday #58 – AC 2204

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40′ flatcar 2204 on the house track at Oba in November 1976 with track material (a switch frog). This car is from a 50 car group numbered 2201-2250. These cars appear to show up in equipment registers around 1942 according to Ian Cranstone’s roster index page and were likely built by Canadian Car & Foundry.

Photo courtesy Paul O’Shell.