A 1:20 SCALE D&RGW IDLER FLAT
40 FEET LONG AND 3 FEET BETWEEN THE RAILS
BY GEORGE KONRAD
A LONG TIME ago, in a state far, far away, our family was on vacation in Chama, New Mexico and my son and I found an unusual flatcar. It was similar to the 30 foot idler flats the Denver & Rio Grande Western used in pipe trains but it looked to be about 40 feet long. We were ready with tape measure, notepad, and camera, so we took dimensions, notes, and photos.
The car measured exactly forty feet, excluding coupler pockets, and sat on a pair of long wheelbase (4 foot 8 inch) D&RGW trucks. That leads me to think the car is a cut-down reefer, but I have no facts to support my hypothesis. A length of spliced rail and long U-bolts reinforce the bottom of the side sills. Rio Grande 30 foot idler flats had the same bracing.
At one time someone must have used the flat to transport a crawler type of machine because end loading ramps and crawler track links were on board. The 40 foot flat has stake pockets but all plans of the shorter rail-braced idler flats I have seen show no stake pockets. I have seen no plans for or references to such a long flatcar in any publication though I may have missed one.
PLANNING THE MODEL
I decided to build a model of this unusual car and, in camp later that evening, I fleshed out my field notes and drew some careful plans. Some time after we returned home, I used my field information to build a model of the car in On3. I used the flat in regular service on my layout for many years and, for sentimental reasons, I kept the On3 model when I moved up to large scale.
At first, as is the case with most of us, I acquired some LGB equipment and built several models in half-inch scale. But I had more and more trouble resolving the discrepancies in scale I kept noticing. Having been driven by that old "dyed-in-the-wool" narrow gauge finescale modeling for so many years, I finally realized I would have to do the same kind of modeling I did in On3, but in a scale other than 1:24.
When I measured the actual dimension of Gauge 1 track (45mm), I realized I should model in 1:20 scale. That way I could keep using the same track and mechanisms but represent a true 3 foot gauge. It also was unnecessary to change existing trackage and I could still use my fine LGB Moguls. They would now represent a Porter prototype instead of a Cooke, and I could use them just about "as is" to pull the 1:20 models I intend to build.
My first model in 1:20 was going to be that 40 foot flatcar for two reasons: First, because its length makes a good "test bed" for coupler overhang and structure clearances. Second, the car brings back a lot of fond family memories about Chama and the rest of that vacation.
GEORGE GOES TO WORK
I built the car from my old Chama reference materials using a home-made aluminum 1:20 scale rule. (I drew the accompanying plans specifically for this article.) I cut all my lumber to correct size from clear pine or white cedar on a 10 inch table saw. Then I dragged a fine-tooth razor saw along each piece to accentuate the grain. Be sure to do that just after you cut or purchase your full length stock. Half the time I forget this step until I am ready to assemble a model and, instead of a few nice long saw drags, I wind up fussing with a whole stack of miserable little pieces! By the way, I cut the deck boards with an actual edge tongue just as was on the prototype.
I come from the leather dye or India ink school of wood staining and I colored the model a dark silver-gray to match the car I saw in Chama. I painted the metal parts a dark rust brown.
When the wood stain had dried, I assembled the car using one of the new waterproof white glues. Use the same common sense assembly methods authors writing about the smaller scales have described for years. But a large scale flat car needs a bit more care with the long side sills and parts of similar size. In small scale modeling, the sills are relatively short strips of wood. In 1:20, 1:24, or 1:22.5 scales, though, the sills are long enough to develop curvature. Be sure to check for that; avoid building a model with a hump where it should be straight.
Tony Ferraro of Little Railways has a great line of 1:20 detail castings and I used his large stake pockets on my model. They are technically wrong for the D&RGW but, if I add another U-bolt to them, they will be pretty close.
I represented the sections of rail under the side sills with Evergreen styrene, but Old Pullman code 197 rail might do as well. The braces holding the rail to the car are .050-inch diameter florist's wire. That wire is also good for grab irons but I used some ready-made grabs from my scrap box.
I built the queenposts and turnbuckles from styrene and used .060-inch diameter weed-wacker monofilament for the truss rods. The brakewheel and rachet/pawl castings are from Little Railways. I built up the brake staff bracket and stirrup steps from brass and the D&RGW coupler pocket from styrene. I actually bolted the coupler pocket to the end beam, then mounted a USA Trains knuckle coupler.
I also built up those odd little straps on the end beam from styrene. My guess is, on the prototype, the equipment loading ramps hooked over those straps. I usually put working coupler release levers on my models but I have no indication this car had cut levers at all so I left them off. Quite possibly, when equipment moved on and off the car, it repeatedly damaged the cut levers.
I used Delton trucks because they are a bit longer than most others. In 1:20 scale, they are still 8 scale inches short of the correct 4 feet 8 inches and, of course, represent a different prototype.
A MULTI-PURPOSE MODEL
I am very happy with my first effort in 1:20 scale. The car is certainly impressive with its length of just over twenty-five actual inches. In fact one hobby shop dealer immediately christened it "a model railroader's skateboard"!
But the best news? It easily will negotiate an LGB 1500 (2 1/2 foot radius) curve, body mounted couplers and all. Any curves on my layout will be at least 1600 (4 foot radius), though. I think the flatcar shows large prototypes in 1:20 scale are feasible...even with body mounted couplers.
Its been many years since that happy time with my family "way out West", but every time the long flatcar rumbles past me on my layout, it takes me back to a happy summer evening in the Chama yards. And, yes, a wooden car of its size with metal wheelsets certainly does rumble!