Rail Barge Construction (carfloat)
For My HO Model Railroad

Construction begins

I started this barge construction (carfloat) at the end of October, 2012 for my previous HO Utopia Northern. It now resides on my my new UNRR. (Use these links for quick overviews of my model railroads.) 

This is totally freelanced barge construction roughly based on photos I've seen and an article in Model Railroad Hobbyist, the free Internet model railroad magazine, about construction of an N-scale barge.

Walthers used to sell a long HO carfloat but it was discontinued (but they planned to re-release it in 2013). I found one on the Internet. It was far too expensive for my budget and it was too long to fit the available space in my harbor scene.

I took some freight cars and my NMRA track gauge and laid out track spacing on a sheet of Evergreen Scale Models .080" (2 mm) styrene. I kept the track spacing fairly tight with a 1-inch setback from both edges of the barge.

The overall barge width is 5 1/2 inches that scales out to 40 feet in HO. It took multiple passes with an X-Acto #11 blade to score the sheet before I could snap it.

For the barge construction I laid a piece of styrene on a sheet of 1" blue foam construction board and used it to trace the barge outlines.

Then I cut the foam with a utility knife to the rectangular shape of the styrene barge deck. As you can see in the photo the height of the barge is a near perfect match for the rails on the apron.

The final shape of the barge ends and bottom have not been done nor has the cut edge of the styrene been smoothed. That's the next step.

The barge begins to take shape.
basic barge construction

Shaping the hull

Styrene and foam board sandwich.
ho barge sandwich

I began doing the barge construction by laying out curves for the bow and stern using a French curve (instead of drawing the curve with a compass).

Laying out the bow and stern curves.
barge deck curves

I opted for shorter, steeper curves at the stern. I measured the top and bottom starting points for the curves and penciled in the lines by eye. 

After I had cut out the first curve with multiple passes of a #11 X-Acto blade I flipped the cut piece over to doublecheck the curve on the opposite side of the barge deck.

Shaping bow and stern curves.
barge styrene sanding

I wrapped a fresh piece of 150 grit sandpaper around a block of wood and sanded the edges until they appeared to be smoother and a similar shape. Final shaping will wait until the styrene is affixed to the foam board.

Shaping the foam board.
rasping barge curves

Continuing barge construction, I laid the styrene deck on the foam board, traced the curve outlines with a pencil, and cut the foam board carefully with a sharp utility knife. (I don't own a hot wire cutting tool. One might have come in handy for this step).

I measured down 3/8" from the top at both ends and drew guidelines for the cuts across the bow and stern. After gently rasping them to a pleasing shape I used the sanding block to smooth the edges. There are still some rough spots. I'm hoping that after painting the sides they will look like some rusting and prangs from being handled by the tug boats. If not, I will need to use a filler to smooth the sides.

Joining the sandwich at the workbench.
glueing the deck

The next step in the barge construction was glueing the styrene deck to the foam board. I used Liquid Nails for this part of the barge construction because I had an opened tube on hand. 

I weighted the sandwich to get a good bond before proceeding with barge construction. After the bond is secure I will use the sanding block to do final shaping.

Laying the rails

After some final shaping of the edges with a rasp and the sandpaper block it was time to begin the really difficult part of the barge construction project.

Marking the rail ends where the barge meets the apron.
marking rail ends

The initial test was to use a ruler to line up the position of the rails where they would meet the rails on the apron when the barge was butted up against the shore tracks.. 

I marked the ends with a pencil. Because I wanted to lay the code 83 rail directly on the styrene deck I could't attach the rails to circuit board ties to keep a correct gauge.

I decided to use ACC glue for bonding. To get an idea of how the tracks would look I used a setback of 3/4" from the edge of the barge for the outside tracks and penciled in some lines.


Penciling in track positions on the deck.
barge track lines

I used the HO gauge markings on the NMRA ruler to draw lines 2 1/2 feet from the earlier drawn track center lines. I used a #5 frog angle because I had a Fast Tracks fixture for it. I drew connecting compound curves to approximate where the tracks would go on the deck. Then the fun began!

First I had to make the frog for the turnout that begins on the apron but finishes on the barge itself. This would decide where the tracks really had to go. As it turned out I wasn't too far off the original curves I had drawn.


Making the turnout frog.
ho barge turnout frog

I used a Fast Tracks jig and code 83 rail. After I had filed the rails and was happy with their position I soldered the frog angle together and checked it with the edge of an NMRA track gauge.

I had left the rails at the apron end longer than I needed. I put the assembled frog on the barge deck, placed the barge in position against the apron, and marked where to cut the rails.Again, because I couldn't solder to any circuit board ties I tried to use epoxy to hold the assembly together. It didn't work out very well.

I removed the epoxy and cut a small strip of thin copper and sweat soldered it underneath the frog while weighting the assembly upside down with Fast Tracks point/frog jigs. I filed out any solder that was fouling passage for the wheels and checked that wheels would roll through correctly. If you want more information about Fast Tracks see my page on handlaid track with Fast Tracks jigs.

Bending the rail curves
fast tracks rail bender

I had bought a Fast Tracks rail bender when I was building slip switches for Underhill North. I had also needed it to bend G scale rail. This is one of those tools that is an "extra" but it sure helps when making compound curves as I needed to do for the barge. I used the rough guide lines on the deck to check the rail bends. The next step was to lay and bond the rails to the styrene deck.

Laying the rails on the deck.
laying barge tracks

The method here was to lay one rail and use track gauges to set the companion rail. I wish I had a some extra hands during the barge construction! I put down a bead of Microbond Medium ACC glue along the lines and quickly pressed the rail in place. This is where pre-bending the rails really helped. I used a metal ruler to keep the straight section straight. 

I also brushed on some Sinbad ACC accelerator along the bottom edge of the rail to speed the process. I only glued the ruler to the deck once and had to shift a rail end once before the glue set up permanently. That and some glue on my my fingers!


Laying and glueing the second rail.
carfloat tracks

I have acquired an assortment of track gauges from code 70 to 100 over the many years I've been in the hobby.  I used them all to keep the rails spaced while I applied the ACC glue. The NMRA gauge is the principal one I used to check everything. I had to work quickly starting from the apron end where the curves are located.

My dual gauge code 70 3-point gauges are worn enough to be used for code 83 so I kept them for the critical compound curves and used the code 100 gauges on the straight stretches. A little sloppiness in the gauge is OK on the straight track.

After I had all the track glued down I positioned the barge at the apron and rolled a few freight cars on and off the barge.

Lining up the barge for track testing at the apron .
barge positioning test

The height is almost a perfect match. As the barge is not intended to move I used rail joiners at the apron end to make operations easier. I took out some freight cars and placed them on the barge to see how many would fit. It appears the barge will handle 8 cars if they are a mix of 40 and 50 foot cars. I can fit two on the center track and at least three on the outer tracks. That should provide plenty of operations. Idler flat cars will be used to get cars on and off the barge. The rails are electrified because I used rail joiners at the apron. However, locomotives are not allowed on the barge.

Testing the barge capacity.
ho barge track capacity

barge loaded with 8 freight cars
ho barge freight cars

I'd added the barge to my operations scheme to see how it would work in practice. I still needed to add finishing details like bollards and cleats that I had to purchase. I knew Frenchman River makes some of what I needed. I also had to paint and weather the barge. Still lots to do during the winter when the wind was howling.


Update: December, 2012

Disguising the seam between styrene deck
and foam base
woodland scenics foam putty

The detail parts arrived from Frenchman River. First I needed to do some final shaping of the barge. I ordered a container of Woodland Scenics foam putty from a nearby hobby store: Hockley Valley Railroad in Alliston.

I applied the foam putty with a small putty knife and roughly smoothed it with my fingers. This was to disguise the visible seam between the styrene deck and the blue foam base.The putty won't attack the foam. It only took a few minutes to fill in dents and fill the seam.


Final sanding of the barge
ho barge sanding

The following day after the foam putty has hardened I used a soft, flexible sanding block to clean up the edges and do the final contouring. I went over this with 180 grit sandpaper. 


Detail parts added: wheels stops and bollards
ho barge details

Then it was time to add the detail parts before painting the barge. I was imagineering this barge and not following any prototype.

I was more interested in making it look plausible. The wheel stops are plastic and the ship bollards are metal from Frenchman Model Works. I think they are pewter.

I drilled #54 holes to place them because they have small tabs on the bottom. I used Microweld medium CA glue to affix them. (The distortion in the photo is my fault. The rails were straight!)


Painting the base coat on the carfloat.
ho barge base coat

I chose to airbrush on a base coat of Polly Scale Tarnished Black. The following day I used Pan Pastel powders to weather the sides and deck. I used rust, grays, and a little cream colour. I also drybrushed the wheel stops and rail tops with Polly Scale Rust. 

Weathering with Pan Pastel powders.
pan pastel weathered barge

My carfloat is static. It is connected to the apron with rail joiners to keep the alignment. This took some fiddling. I had to reglue some parts and shift some rails a tad. If you want a moveable carfloat have a look at Bill Payne's method using this highlighted link. 

Painting the pilings.
ho tall pilings

Then I painted the tall pilings I bought from Frenchman River Model Works. They are a light brown color. I drybrushed them with some gray paint and finished with a wash of Hunterline's gray mix. I dabbed on some white on the top of the pilings to simulate bird droppings. Then I drilled a tiny hole (#64) in the bottom of the pilings, inserted a straight pin, clipped the end off and added a dab of AC glue.

I dipped the bottoms of the pilings in white glue and then dipped them in some small sized stones. This makes them look like the tide is down a bit and the barnacles are showing. I learned this trick while building the Campbell Scale Models pier scene many moons ago. I drilled holes next to the carfloat and inserted the piling pins. The pilings help to keep the carfloat aligned with the apron.

The completed carfloat
completed carfloat

This completes my barge construction. I now have a nice harbor scene that adds to the overall operation of the layout and gives us an excuse to "fiddle" cars into the drawer to move them beyond the layout to parts far and wide. Th carfloat serves the same purpose on the new UNRR.

A side view of the harbor and carfloat.
finished ho barge

Walthers re-releases waterfront series (Feb, 2013)

Wouldn't you know it! Now that I've completed construction of the harbor and carfloat Walthers announces that the waterfront series of kits is being re-released due to popular demand.

This includes the harbor apron, carfloat, tugboat, pier and crane and assorted waterfront buildings. Check the Walthers website or flyer. Maybe they still have some.

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