Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Easy & Cheap Pulpwood Loads

Recently, on a model railroad forum, someone asked if anyone knew of a manufacturer that made pulpwood loads for Walthers pulpwood flatcars.

I have to admit that my first thought was: Doesn’t anyone make anything by themselves anymore? Do we need to buy everything ready-to-run? Whatever happened to making things yourself?

But that thought was left unspoken. Instead, I described how I made my my own pulpwood loads, using ivy.

The ivy that I use grows on the side my house. It grows long vines with a tough, slender stalk. In fall, when the leaves die, the ivy needs to be pruned. These brown, lightweight stalks are perfect for making log loads for the Walthers’ cars.

To make the loads, start by saving the piece of Styrofoam that Walthers includes in the package to prevent the sides of the cars from breaking. Cut the Styrofoam to make it narrower, so that the ivy can be glued to each side (and the piece of Styrofoam can still fit into the car).

For the loads themselves, I built a simple jig that enabled me to cut the stalks to uniform lengths. After they were cut, I glued them (with white glue) to the sides and top of the piece of Styrofoam. When dry, I touched up the “logs” with a bit of brown and black paint to simulate different shades of bark. I also added a twig or two to break up any uniformity.

Since the load is attached to the piece of Styrofoam, it is easy to take out when the car is returning empty from the paper mill.

Ivy stalks can also be used to load bulkhead flats which lack side pieces to keep logs in the car; see photo below. For this I glued the first layer of "logs" to a piece of wax paper; when dry, I added the rest, using the car itself as a template for the load.

That’s it—a simple, lightweight, realistic and cheap way to make log loads, and no manufacturers (or money) required.

A bottoms-up view of the Styrofoam insert, with
the "logs" glued to the sides.

Another view of loaded pulpwood cars.

Ivy stalks can also be loaded into bulkhead flats.


  1. Wow they look fantastic!!! They have realistic trunk rings and everything! I wish this vine grew near my house.

  2. am trying this for myself, hoping it turns out right

  3. I just made some log loads for my N Scale flat cars and this article caught my eye because of your use of an ivy vine. In my case, I used the creeping vines from a Wisteria bush. Wisteria grows into a large, rapidly-spreading tree with a lot of purple flowers in the spring time.

    But just like ivy (and also grape vines), the trick is that a creeping vine type of plant has a bark that is striated *lengthwise*. If you look at the small twigs that you can prune from most trees and plants, they are either smooth or have a pattern that rings around the body. But grown-up trees don't look that way. They have bark with lines that are vertical along the length of the body.

    Hence... ivy, wisteria, grape vine. And any of these have nice brown "bark" looking texture once you get away from the outermost green, soft new growth.

    Since vine grown it flexible, you can easily straighten your "logs" to look correct (logs on a flat car are pretty darn straight when you think about it).

    I baked mine in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes to kill anything that may one day decide to hatch out, like mites, fungus, who knows what. This also dries out the material so that the cut ends, if they were green, turn a neutral wood color, ring patterns and all.

    Nice job on your logs.

    Vines, man. They are the way to go.