Your log car is built and now it’s time for details and painting. Last time we were going to “forge” iron parts. But we’ll use card stock. The first parts are straps or “bands” to hold the center beam together. They are made of 1/8” wide strips 15/16” long. Into the first ¼” of each end, use a ballpoint pen to press a pair of “bolt heads” into the bands. Two bolts of each side of the car. Once pressed, carefully bend the card stock around the center beam (there will be no strap across the car bottom.) When you glue each band on, it should appear as if the bolts go through the beams to the far side, thereby holding the beams together. And remember the pressed “bolt heads” face out!
Bands will go around the beam at each end, beside each log bunk on both sides, and the last few equally spaced along the beam between the bunks. Again, with so many variations in the real cars, it’s hard to get the spacing “incorrect.”
Some Skeleton log cars had additional strap iron from the center beam to the top of the middle part of each log bunk. This not only strengthen the bunks connection to the center beam, but allowed logs to slide up these onto the bunk without catching on the sides of it. This is an option you might consider which will be just four more 1/8” wide strips of card stock per log bunk.
Next, you’ll need to make iron straps for the ends of the log bunks to hold stakes. These will be made the same way, to the same length as the center beam bands. You’ll need two straps for each bunk, one at each end. Make sure there is a 1/8×1/8” opening to insert a stake (which you’ll do later.)
Some loggers trimmed down and “jammed” stakes into place, while others preferred to run a long bolt through the log bunk end to “pin” the stakes in place. This can be represented by a tiny drop of glue to form a “bolt head” on each side of the bunk ends. Others used triangular wedges that could slide in the open center of the log bunks to adjust position for the logs. You can make wedges of 1/8×1/4” strip wood cut diagonally. In the case of using wedges, strong chains held the logs both together and securely to the car.
For a brand new car from one of the major Car Builders, the wood and iron parts were universally painted to the customer’s color specifications, usually gray or black, but other colors were used. In later years “Safety” yellow or orange became popular. For a car fresh out of the logger’s shop, the wood can be left unpainted, but the iron bands and straps will need to be painted black.
As cars aged, the paint became faded and chipped and the metal hardware got rusty. Creating the “aged” wood look is difficult, so I paint the wood a light gray, often using a light “wash” of darker gray or even a little black.
Hardware gets a wash or coat of “Rust” color or a dull light brown over the iron black paint. Sometimes one band could be left black to show that it has been replaced or just hasn’t started to rust as fast as the others.
By the way, “rust” is not always the same color! Different alloys of metals oxidize to different shades of red, orange, or brown, and the age of the rust seems to darken the color of the rust, especially on heavy cast iron. If you want to start an argument among model railroaders get a group of them together to tell you what color “rust” is!
You may want to weather and/or “rust” the trucks and couplers for log cars as well. Equipment used in the timber industry was rarely well maintained, at least cosmetically, with the occasional exception of the locomotives or other steam machinery.
Skeleton Log cars were seldom lettered for the company they were owned by because they didn’t leave company rails! Not all cars were numbered either and those which were had their numbers “touched up” or replaced by hand painted numbers, usually not too neatly. This “hand painting” can be done by carefully using a toothpick dipped in paint to hand apply numbers.
When logs or cut lumber were shipped off line, they generally used regular railroad flat cars, but for our purposes, Skeleton cars can be used anywhere.
After you have detailed, painted, and assembled the Skeleton car, the last thing to do is put long stakes in each end of the log bunks. I use 1/8×1/8” strip wood ¾” long for stakes. ½” of each stake is above the log bunk to hold the lower logs from rolling off the car. These are left natural bare wood color because they were broken often and replaced quickly and cheaply. I sand or carve with a hobby knife some rounded edges on the portion of the stake extending above the log bunk to depict the wear of constant loading and unloading.
Skeleton cars were also made in all steel, but by this time many logging operations were moving to trucks and heavy equipment. Rail based operations were in decline and usually opted to buy used rolling stock and locomotives to hang on until they could change operations to the road.
More “Out of the Woods” next time.