Custom Finishing Log Truck Kit – Frame and Modifications

With pulpwood loading operations being a major feature of the Algoma Central Railway, I want to have some vehicles and loading equipment as well to feature at at least a few of the loading spots on the layout. To that end, some while back I picked up a couple of Custom Finishing pulpwood truck conversion kits. These kits are cast in white metal and contain all the parts including log bunks and parts for an integrated loading crane to kitbash from a semi truck model (you have to supply the base truck to combine with the kit.)

The Custom Finishing Kit has a cast metal frame piece and the instructions indicate that it is designed to fit the old Atlas Ford “LNT” truck. I didn’t have any Atlas trucks but I did have an old Athearn Kenworth truck kicking around from my old 4×8 layout in my parent’s basement 20 years ago. I didn’t have any other real use for this truck cab so I decided to convert this into the pulpwood truck.

I did my own frame modifications on this one, removing the fifth wheel and filling any remaining nubs and raised detail flat on the top surface of the rear frame and cutting the frame right in front of the axle springs. The frame was extended with pieces of HO 4×10 strip and capped with a piece cut from .040″ sheet. A few pieces of .010x.040″ strip along the bottom of the frame also helped reinforce and strengthen the joints.

The fuel tanks in the Athearn kit are designed to sort of clip on over the frame, which looks rather toy-like. I cut the mounting clips off of the tanks and glued them directly to the sides of the frame, which looks a little better.

The rest of the frame conversion consists of gluing the protective bars and log bunks to the frame with CA, as well as the assembled base for the integrated log handling crane. There’s also an end piece for the frame.

Log Loading Equipment and an Interesting Idea about Traffic

Other than iron ore from Wawa, and finished products from Algoma Steel created from said iron ore, one of the primary cargoes carried on the Algoma Central Railway was pulpwood.

Over the years a number of private spurs operated by different logging and forestry companies are listed in employee timetables, as well as other major operations loading from a clearing alongside the railway’s house track at various sidings.

So, with pulpwood loading being such a significant source of traffic on the ACR (or in several locations on pretty much all other Northern Ontario and Quebec lines) anyone modeling the ACR or really any model railways loosely based on Northern Ontario will want to include some pulpwood traffic at least, and probably actually at least one loading spur somewhere to represent this.

So I thought I’d share a series of my photos of different pulpwood loading locations and take a look what such an operation looks like. We find that the common word here is “simplicity”. Loading pulpwood does not require large overhead cranes or loading equipment (although at some larger saw mills like the Tembec mill at Hearst massive cranes make short work of moving tree-length logs between railcars or trucks and a large storage pile and the mill), enclosed loading bays, conveyors, dump pits, etc. All that is needed in most cases is simply a flat cleared area next to the tracks where trucks can drive up and unload their logs either directly into waiting railcars or into a storage pile. There are no fixed structures required to model, but the log trucks and other self-propelled equipment are of definite interest.

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This first photo is from my slide collection (photographer’s name unknown) and is taken at the Hawk Junction in early 1981 showing a pair of trucks loading gondola cars with logs on the team track behind the old railway freight shed (the grey building at background left).

Note that the truck in the middle (and likely the one at left as well) has its own hydraulic loading crane permanently mounted directly to the rear of the truck itself. Not all trucks will have this, but the self loader is a fairly common feature that allows the truck itself to also include the required loading equipment.

Unfortunately I haven’t taken the chance to actually personally photograph any individual trucks directly, but a google image search for “pulpwood truck” will turn up some good results.

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This photo is from the Huron Central ex-CP yard in Sault Ste. Marie. These two south tracks of the yard are always jammed with pulpwood flatcars which are loaded here for shipment to the paper mill at Espanola, ON on the Huron Central between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury. The facility is no more involved than a wide driveway along the track running the length of the yard. For the detail-oriented, I noted in most of my closer shots of individual railcars on these tracks quite a bit of bark and other debris alongside the rails where trucks load the cars.

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This photo was taken at Eton from my trip on the Tour of the Line in fall 2013. Here again we see another log truck equipped with a self loader on the rear loading logs into flatcars on the spur track. While this photo really only shows about a quarter to a third of the operation here (there is a second spur to the left and this shows only a portion of the cleared area) the unseen parts are simply more of the same and this shot really shows all that is required for a log loading operation.

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This last photo was again taken at Eton, this time in 2005, and was sent to me by Steve Watson to illustrate the loading equipment. The machine this time is a SERCO Model 290 log loader; a larger specialized stand alone piece of equipment.

This photo also shows something else that is interesting. Notice the tank car (with diesel fuel placards) spotted at the very end of the spur track. While some pulpwood is delivered via the main highway system and loaded at spur tracks in or near town, some of these logging spurs can be pretty isolated from any regular road system (I was able to actually trace a logging road from Eton through Frater on satellite imagery, but it’s a pretty long and circuitous route over what’s likely some pretty poor excuses for roads, and even then you’re still 100 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie on Highway 17 by the time you get to the main road), making bringing in a tanker truck to refuel your logging trucks and other equipment a difficult proposition.

So an interesting idea to add to your operation, if the logging camp is particularly remote, is to occasionally spot a tank car of diesel fuel at the very end of a spur to refuel all your trucks. This sounds like something I can do at my pulpwood camp at Mosher which was also pretty isolated. I’ve heard this location also had portable unloading ramp on the north spur where trucks and other equipment could be brought in to the camp and older equipment was just sometimes abandoned there since there was little to no access to the outside road system from the logging road network around Mosher at the time.

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

Throwback Thursday #2

In the late 1960s-early 1970s Newaygo Forest Products had not yet established the lumber & chip mill at Mead to process logs, but had already been established since at least the 1950s with significant pulpwood loading spurs at Mosher (mile 217.3 & 218.0) and large cutting areas centered around the Mead area with spurs at mile 264.4 (Hale), 275.3 (Mead – where the mill would be built in 1974), and 281.9 (Coppell). During the 1950s up to the early 1970s this raw pulpwood would have flowed south; once the mill was built in the mid-1970s it seems most Newaygo pulpwood was sent to Mead to be chipped, and the woodchips were then shipped south to Wisconsin.

Empty cars would often be stored at nearby sidings at Horsey (273.1) and Coppell (280.9), which is exactly what we see with the message forms below.

These scans are of simple message forms that could have been delivered to train crews along with train orders, but to convey information that is less operationally critical or not covered by the formal forms of train orders.

These messages were all delivered to train no. 5 on successive days from April 24-26, 1970, and there’s a lot of special references to handling empties and pulpwood loads related to Newaygo’s spurs at Mosher, Mead and Coppell.

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I believe the railroad term for some of these set-outs of empty cars in the house tracks/sidings at Mosher, Horsey and Coppell would be “constructively placed” – maintaining a ready supply of empty cars nearby for loading at the logging company’s spurs.

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61′ gons referred to these messages would of course be the 1001-1400 series bulkhead gondolas built in the mid 1960s. 40′ gons referred to in the second message would have to be cars from the 4601-4804 series (re)built by the ACR’s shops in 1947-48 and still in service in the early 1970s.

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The specific references in the last two messages to handling both units (locomotive) through to Hearst are interesting; perhaps it was not uncommon to set off the trailing unit at Oba once all the interchange traffic was dropped off, if there were only minimal traffic left for Mead and Hearst? (Note also that CN freights only operated into Hearst 3 days a week according to the timetable – a frequency Ontario Northland maintains today.)