Thursday, March 30, 2017

Loads of scrap

We are all familiar with scrap as a load for open-top cars, usually gondolas. Scrap could be generated in a wide variety of manufacturing plants, and because it could readily be re-melted, had commercial value. Thus observing railroad traffic, for example in yards, would often reveal cars of scrap going and coming from all directions. Scrap was described by a grading system, and carloads of a single grade, for example, Grade 1 Heavy Melting Scrap, were of course worth more money. If carloads of a single grade weren’t possible, a shipper would at least strive to have carloads of all steel scrap, or all cast iron, or aluminum, or whatever they worked with. But even mixed scrap had value.
     Scrap was also an important traffic component, for any railroad with a major car shop. Repairing, upgrading or rebuilding cars naturally generated scrap, particularly when hundreds or even thousands of cars might pass through a particular shop in a year. Some railroads simply sold this scrap commercially, but those with the ability to recycle it, either by reclaiming individual parts or by remelting to make castings, would collect it from across the railroad.
     As a single example, Southern Pacific, possessed of several major car shops across the system and with a major reclaim operation at Sacramento, along with a foundry and forge shop, collected immense amounts of scrap annually. This was described from time to time in the employee magazine, the Bulletin. Shown below is a typical photo from the Bulletin.

Visible here are two GS gondolas dating from the 1920s, SP 92026 and 92362 (both cars happen to be members of Class G-50-10), seen in 1946 at Sacramento. Among the foreground materials is a pile of tie plates, which SP would straighten and re-use. The electromagnet being used on the crane was obviously a big help in unloading loads of scrap with every size and shape,
     Modeling scrap has long been made easy by commercial products representing loads of many kinds. Unfortunately, some makers of such loads apparently believed that the load should be “interesting,” and would add recognizable but unlikely items on the top of the load, such as an automobile body, or a complete cross-compound air compressor. Let us just tactfully say that such items are not very realistic (you can of course carve off the offending items and replace with something more pedestrian),
     On the other hand, some makers of scrap loads have done a good job of giving us realistic materials to put in our gondolas.  And if the coloration is not to your liking, you can repaint or highlight areas differently, or add additional “stuff” to the load. I have been struck by how much different a commercial load can look when repainted. For example, shown below is an old Chooch load, which came painted in a uniform rust red. I used a rattle can of light gray and “dusted” the load from a distance to change the main color of the load without reaching down into crevices. It looks really amazingly like metal parts. But you be the judge:

The model here is an old Ulrich GS gondola with upgraded details and new trucks and lettering. (An overhead view of this load is below.)
     One of the vendors offering much more realistic loads nowadays is Motrak (visit their website to see lots of examples; they are at this link:!/~/search/category=20386258&fieldScale=H%20Scale&fieldCategory=Freight%20Car%20Loads ). They have more than 15 screens of loads for a truly wide variety of HO and N scale manufacturers’ hoppers and gondolas. They are primarily coal, gravel (ballast), ore, scrap metal, scrap aluminum, and woodchips. Most are made from Hydrocal plaster, some are resin. Shown below is one of the scrap aluminum loads at bottom; above it is the Chooch load shown in the photo above.

     But you may need something different, or just not want to spend the money. Loads like this are easy to make yourself, using whatever kind of base you like for loads. I usually use sheet balsa, because my open-top cars are weighted to operate properly when empty, thus do not need any more weight in a load than absolutely necessary. I have rummaged around in my “too good to throw away” miscellaneous-parts drawer and chosen stuff to glue onto scrap loads. In the photo below are a bunch of those miscellaneous parts, most painted a rusty color to suggest old scrap, but ranging from orangish-brown to dark brown, all on a balsa base sized to the destination car.

     I also modify commercial loads, as I mentioned above. I show next two older Chooch loads that have had items I didn’t like carved off, and others added. Both are painted fairly dark to look like old scrap. The upper one is in a Details Associates gondola, for which it was cut to fit. I decided to paint one of the items of scrap, a yellow and white barrel, to make the rest of the load less interesting to examine.

     These are simple loads, either to buy or to make. They can offer immense variety in appearance, so can serve as a wide variety of cargoes to and from different industries. On my layout, I will probably add more loads to the group shown here (and a couple not shown). I believe that variety in loads is always my friend.
Tony Thompson


  1. Tony,

    I keep a ziplock bag by my work area to save the twisty bits from drilling holes, sprue bits and pieces, wire bits, Kadee trip pins, etc., that end up being used to dress up and "un-genericize" scrap loads.

  2. Good point, Ted. Changing the texture of the load surface also helps disguise the commercial sameness of many loads.
    Tony Thompson