We’ll get started by building those unique wood based Skeleton Log Cars. Two lengths will be built, the 22 foot “shorty” cars and the more common 36 foot cars. All will be of the basic style using lots of wood with trucks and hardware made or iron or steel. Not only did the Car Building companies build them this way, but they supplied trucks, couplers, and assembly hardware to timber outfits to build their own cars as well.
An interesting note here is that many log cars had no brakes. When parked, the wheels had to be chocked to keep them from rolling. Those with brakes often had the brake staff and wheel removable to clear logs, or had these parts moved to the side of the car for clearance. For logging operations in the days of steam machinery, safety was often given only a passing thought! Even today, it remains a dangerous occupation.
The basic design will be the same for both 22’ and 36’ cars, only center beam dimensions will differ. The long “bunks” which actually hold the logs in place across the car will be of the same dimensions for both cars, as will the “bolsters” where trucks are mounted to the car.
You’ll need two pieces of 1/8×1/4 inch strip wood or balsa 1 ¾ inches long and a piece of 1/8×1/8” wood 1 ½” long for EACH bunk. The 1/8×1/8” will be glued between the two 1/8×1/4” pieces to form a “U” shape if seen from the end. All three pieces are 1/8” wide, but the center must be lower than the two outside ones and 1/8” shorter at each end.
The 22 foot Skeleton Car will need two bunks, and the 36 foot car will need four bunks.
The center beams for the Skeleton Log Cars will be made of three pieces of 1/8×1/4” strip wood or balsa glued together side by side standing on edge. For the 22’ car, cut these 4 3/16” long. For the 36’ car cut them 7” long. This will make a heavy center beam that will act as the car’s “frame.” You might score the edges of each board the enhance the appearance of being separate timbers.
Once the center beam glue is dry, you can add the “bolsters” which are made of two pieces of 1/8x 3/8” strip wood cut ½” long for each bolster. (Do NOT drill holes for the mounting screw yet!) The bolsters will be glued to what will be the “bottom” of the center beam. The beam is 3/8” wide, so the half inch length of the bolster will be along the beam, not across it.
In the case of trucks with couplers mounted on them (such as SHS) you’ll want to round off the end of the bolster facing the end of the car for clearance
of swing. From the end of the beam to the bolster’s rounded end will be 9/16”. Do this measuring from both ends. Only after the glue attaching bolsters to the beam has completely set will you drill a 1/16” pilot hole through the bolster and into the center beam. The hole will be in the center of the bolster (¼” from the ends and 1/8” from the sides.) The reason for drilling after gluing is to limit possible splitting of the wood of the bolster.
Once the bolsters are secure, turn the center beam over to mount the log bunks. In the case of both lengths of cars, glue the bunks 11/16” from the beam ends. This will put them over the drilled holes. The bunks should be glued on with the middle 1/8×1/8” piece against the center beam. This leaves the “open center” side up.
In the case of the longer car, you’ll be mounting two more bunks to the center beam. Each of these will be mounted 1 ½” from the end bunks. You may wish to move these two “middle” bunks to make either the look of equal spacing or make them be a bit closer to the end bunks. Some loggers added a fifth bunk, while others used only three bunks instead of four, so there is some latitude in being realistic.
Okay, the basic car is now ready for trucks and couplers, and this simple design allows for either Hi-Rail or scale mounting. Scale modelers may want to use a spacer between the bottom of the center beam and the coupler box to get correct height. The threaded portion of the truck screw can usually be up to 1/8” in diameter without causing splitting problems. Smaller screws are better. Use a small washer between the bolster and the truck. If your screws are too long, uses washers between the screw head and the under side of the truck but beware of rail clearance.
Now take the screws, trucks, (and Hi-Rail couplers) off. You’re going to do some work in the model Blacksmith Shop now to make the various hardware that is supposed to hold the car together. Fortunately, you don’t have to fire up a forge to heat iron because we’re going to use card stock! More about these details next time.
For cars like these, you may find it a good plan to build a few at the same time, almost like an assembly line way.