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Monday, January 14, 2013

Traveling with or shipping models

I have been asked how one can manage to take models to meetings that require air travel, or how one would safely ship a model. Brass models of course have good protective foam and sturdy boxes, at least when new, and are usually wrapped in a sheet of plastic, and sometimes also a sheet of tissue paper. But what about other models? I have indeed taken models from California to such locations as Naperville, Illinois and Cocoa Beach, Florida, with total safety and with no security hassles, and I will describe what I do.
     The plastic sheet that wraps a brass model serves an important function. It exerts very low friction on its contents, so having the first layer in any protective shipping be plastic is a good idea. For freight cars, i just use sandwich bags (we usually use the Baggie brand), one per car unless it's a 50-foot or longer car, which may then need two bags, one on each end. I cannot overemphasize that this is very effective. It prevents snagging any projecting parts on foam or paper cushioning, and as I said, is low friction, so that outermost parts like grab irons don’t get the paint worn off by vibration in travel. 
     Here is a photo. A 40-foot car fits diagonally into one of these bags. This is the KCS box car (see my model description at: ), which I took to Cocoa Beach last week. 

     Then I use a suitable size box, often an old kit box. I line it with a crumpled paper towel and experiment with how the bagged car fits. I may then just fill any open areas with facial tissue (Kleenex or equivalent), and sometimes add a tissue wrap to the bagged car also. The wheel side doesn’t need the same padded protection.

     Add a single sheet of tissue atop the car, and the box can be closed. I always am careful to keep track of how the car sits in the box, and put on the lid so it is “right side up,” by which I mean the “top” of the box front corresponds to the top of the car, as shown by this alignment. This is not important for shipping, but can be important for air travel, as explained in a moment.
     I then place the box in my carry-on luggage so that the car will lie on its side when going through the airport X-ray machine. That does two things: makes the model wheels visible and puts the car in side view, which helps the X-ray examiner to realize it is a model train. You want them to recognize it correctly. I have not had any trouble with the security folks when traveling with models in this fashion.

Note that the handle end of this wheeled suitcase is at the left, which corresponds to the top of the boxes, so that the bottom or wheel side of the model will be at the bottom when the suitcase is being moved with its handle. And the cars lie flat for the X-ray, since the view shown above is what the X-ray sees.
     For shipping, for example by U.S. mail or a package service such as UPS, I like to surround the completed kit-box assembly with more packing which absorbs energy and motion, such as lightly crumpled newspaper. This means that any shocks to the package, such as dropping it, moves each successive inner part a smaller and smaller amount because energy is absorbed in the surrounding packing. I have sent a number of completed cars considerable distances by U.S. mail with no damage by this method.
Tony Thompson


  1. Very well thought out!
    I think using the Athearn "Blue Box" is a great idea... it gives the TSA agent a great visual clue as to what is inside.
    An advantage of the sandwich bag is that if Security DOES want to actually pick up the car... they are pre-programmed for handling things in a plastic bag.

    Great Advice!!! (...and it seems to work!)

  2. Travelling with or transporting anything thats prone to a nice fragile shatter can be heart wrenching. Thanks for the tips!

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