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Railway Freight Operations - Road Vehicles, Military Traffic and Farm Machinery

Wheeled vehicles and machinery were transported on any suitable railway truck. Smaller vehicles and equipment could be moved on any flat or drop-sided wagon. Larger items were moved on purpose built trucks, usually with a dropped centre section and often with smaller than normal wheels. Examples of these wagons will be found in the section on Goods Rolling Stock Design - Specialised Rolling Stock, models of suitable wagon loads are discussed in the Wagon Loads section.

Horse drawn vehicles, mainly private carriages and traders vehicles, farm equipment and motor vehicles (both cars and lorries) have all been regular cargo for the railways. Most horse drawn vehicles were shipped as a one-off load, classed as wagon load traffic and attached to conventional mixed goods trains. Where an entire train load of horse drawn vehicles has been photographed these are normally military standard 'General Service' waggons being moved for the army. Modelling these waggons is discussed under Cargo & Wagon Loads. One exception was a service operated by the LSWR for horse drawn meat vans. The vans had their wheels removed in London and were then craned onto purpose built flat wagons (coded RUCK and later used for containers, see Unit Loads (containers, pallets and IBCs) section). They ran as a block train down to the docks at Southampton where the vans were loaded with chilled imported meat. The train was then taken back to London as an express goods service where the vans were craned off the wagons and their wheels re-attached for deliveries to butchers and the like.

Road tank wagons were sometimes used for beer from the later 1930's and post war they were also used for various chemicals. The types associated with this traffic are discussed below, the type used for milk traffic is considered separately under Non Passenger Coaching Stock Operations - Milk.

Horse Drawn vehicles, Cars & Lorries

By the 1930's most road vehicles shipped by rail were new cars and vans being moved around the country. These were mainly moved on existing four wheeled 'open carriage trucks' or more modern vehicles built to broadly similar designs. At the time mass production was not quite so massive so a consignment might consist of perhaps five or six vehicles going to a dealer, or even a one-off if the vehicle was from the upper end of the market. These would be forwarded is a cut of wagons in conventional mixed goods trains.

Cars being transported by sea were often enclosed in a large wooden case with the framing on the outside. This was craned onto the railway wagon and quite often the car was then driven into it. At the docks it would be lifted onto the deck of the ship and strapped down. Bulk cars for export were often shipped as CKD or 'cars knocked down'. The chassis were nested in batches of four or five, the body sections were similarly nested, the wheels were bolted together in groups of four and tyres were stuffed in wherever they would fit. The engines were shipped in wooden cases. This collection of parts was shipped in open wagons or vans, depending on what was available and how easy they were to load. A consignment of perhaps twenty cars would only require flour large 'plate' wagons for the chassis, four or five open wagons for the body parts and engines and perhaps a van or two for the remainder.

By the 1930's there was some traffic in new cars to and from continent via the rail ferry services. The railways modified some car carrying flat wagons with securing points so they could be used on these ferries. I have not found any illustrations of cars being imported in this way but J H Russels book Wagons & Loads on the GWR and BR/WR (see Bibliography) includes several photographs of British rail flats. The Carfit S was equipped by the Southern Railway with dual air and vacuum brakes specifically for ferry operations to the continent and it happens to be one of the easier models to make, brief details are shown in the sketch. The two cross-bars each had two white canvass straps attached to them, these were secured round the axles of the car. If required they can be represented by 1mm wide strips of cigarette paper folded over the cross-bars and glued to the floor. The cross-bars were attached to the side rails and could be moved along the wagon, do remember to fit yours so that the intended load can fit between them.

Fig___ Carfit S used for ferry traffic in the 1950's and 60's

Sketch of the Carfit S, originally built by the Southern Railway, shown here in BR livery

By the 1950's the traffic in new motor cars was increasing and block trains were increasingly being run. There is a photograph in Dave Larkin's book BR Standard Wagons (Bradford & Barton, see bibliography) showing one of the early 'Bocar P' conversions for moving new cars about the place. These had neither sides or ends but had metal channels built into the floor to locate the wheels. From the photographs these were recessed into the floor as noting appears to show above the planking. There was one fixed and one folding flap to allow movement between wagons. This vehicle is fairly easy to model although lacking a proper photograph of the deck there is some guesswork involved. Take a Farish 57 foot chassis and add a deck of 10 thou plain card overhanging the sides by about 1mm. N now add three strips of 1mm planked card, one in the centre the others laid up to the edge of the 10 thou floor, these three strips need to be cut to allow gaps for the metal channels. Sand the sides down to about 0.6mm overhang at the sides by wrapping the fine sandpaper round a block of wood, lay the chassis upside down on a strip of gash card and rub the chassis against the paper. This should give you a dead flat side. Finally add a strip of 10x10 thou along the outer edges and sand again to blend in this last joint, you now have 1mm height to add lettering.

The later wagons used for this kind of work had low sides of rails and stanchions with ends which were 2 planks deep (See 'Illustrated History of BR wagons' pages 82-5, where there are both photos and drawings). These later Carflats were also used for Motorail services, described in the section on Non Passenger Coaching Stock Operations.

BR's stock of open Bocar and carflat car carrying wagons (converted ex passenger coach chassis) were less than ideal for new car traffic, mainly due to the amount of siding space they required for a given number of cars carried. Following some not terribly successful experimental designs in the 1950's double decked car carrying wagons were further developed in the 1960's. The BR Cartic Four (1964) and privately owned French designed Autic Six (1981) wagons were introduced for motor cars whilst the carflats and some converted Freightliner bogie flat wagons were used for vans and larger commercial vehicles. These are virtually all loaded and unloaded at privately owned depots. Most commonly the lower deck of the car carriers is accessed with a pair of perforated steel channels laid up against the end of the rake. The upper deck is then accessed via a bogie flat wagon with a ramp mounted on it, the steel channels are used to get the vehicles onto the wagon, the car is driven along the wagon then up the ramp at the far end. The angle of the ramp is about 35 degrees from the horizontal, which is steep.

Small shipments, cars going to a dealership for example, were most often moved by road transporter (avoiding wear and tear and possible damage in transit). There is a well known photo of two 'Mini' cars roped down to a plate wagons in Dave Larkin's Bradford and Barton paperback book on BR Standard Wagons (see bibliography), however I believe this shipment took place when there was a strike by road car transporter drivers and very few cars were moved in this way. The photograph is interesting in that it shows how awkward it was to ship modern types of car, which did not have the axle to which straps could be attached. Whereas machinery tends to have plenty of places to attach chains for securing the load motor cars are rather flimsy and need to be secured with care. The sketch below was made as a working drawing based on the photo when modelling this load, as the book mentioned above is long out of print I doubt Mr Larkin will object to its inclusion here. Note the bags of straw used to prevent the ropes from scratching the cars.

Fig___ Cars on a plate wagon

Sketch showing two mini cars roped down to a plate wagon

In the early 1980's, with Speedlink in operation and the smaller non-articulated Procar 80 in service, motor cars and commercial vehicles became regular components of the mixed traffic rakes. This traffic ended with the ending of Speedlink services in 1991 but in 1999 Freightliners were looking at a double-decked six car carrying container which could be used for positioning hire cars or making smaller deliveries to dealers.

Lorries were a less common railway cargo than cars, the rolling chassis was usually built by one firm and the bodywork added by another. It was common practice to drive the chassis from one factory to the other on the roads. I believe this practice continued into the 1960's, after which the danger to the driver riding an exposed chassis became an issue. Where commercial lorries were transported their height meant they often required 'lowmac' drop centre wagons. Most of the weight was at the end with the cab and engine so this would be parked in the well (gaining clearance from the drop centre) but the rear wheels might well be up on the ramped end.

In about 1984 a new air braked vehicle was introduced specifically for lorry traffic, called the Comtic it was an articulated six wheeled vehicle resembling two lomacs fitted together and sharing a centre pair of wheels. I believe the design is a single decked variant of the successful Autic Six twin deck car carrier. The Lima articulated car transporter makes a good basis for these wagons, simply cutting away the supports for the upper deck produces something very similar in appearance to the Comtic. The Lima model can be used to make up an Autic Six but if accuracy is important to you that involves making new supports for the upper deck from plastic card cut to the correct shape, slightly different to the Lima design.

Road-Rail Tanks

Four-wheeled and semi-trailer road tankers were transported on purpose built railway wagons from the later 1930's. They were used for a range of cargo types but in use they seem to have mainly travelled as single wagon loads. Typically at one or other end of their journey they would remain on the railway wagon and be treated as a rail tanker, at the other end they would be off-loaded using an end-loading dock and towed to where they were needed.

The four wheelers were the most common, they usually had Ackerman steering (the wheels pivot close to the ends of the axle rather than the axle itself having a central pivot) so the towing bar was a simple square section tube with an eye on the end. This was hinged up against the end of the tank when on the railway wagon. This type is not difficult to model in N and notes on doing so are included in the section on Wagon Loads.

The semi-trailer types were much less common and the supporting leg at the front was fitted with rather large wheels (perhaps a foot in diameter) rather than the small 'coaster' type usually associated with these vehicles. This was because they had to be hauled on and off the railway wagon without the tractor unit attached.

Beer tankers were used (I am told) to move beer from the brewery to local bottling plants because it was much cheaper to move one wagon load of beer than to move several van loads of bottled beer (3000 gallons equates to just over four thousand crates of beer). Many breweries, especially the larger concerns, had rail connections but evidently the outlying bottling plants did not.

Military Traffic

The military have made regular use of the railways since the mid nineteenth century and in time of war this traffic increased dramatically. It was quicker and more efficient to move heavy equipment or large quantities of material by rail than by road and even today the railway loading gauge is a factor to be considered in the design of military vehicles.

In N there has until recently been a shortage of military models suitable for use as loads, however this has recently changed and a number of models are now available. The railways built special vehicles in the First World War for transporting the increasingly heavy tanks, these were called 'rectank' wagons, most passed to the railways after the war. In the inter war years 'warflats' were built, again to carry heavy military vehicles, the size of tanks increased and the Americans in particular produced taller tanks than everyone else and to carry these the drop centred 'warwell' was introduced. All these vehicles were designed for end-loading and had jacks in the corners to take the weight as the tank was driven onto the wagon. The central floor of the rectanks were lower than standard height, the ends formed short ramps leading up to a standard height buffer beam. The warflats were dead flat (I believe) but the warwell was a curved shape with flat sections above the bogies leading onto a gently curved ramp with a flat bottom to the well itself. They were used for both tanks and other large or heavy machinery such as four wheeled van bodied trailers used as workshops or mobile radio stations and bulldozers. Models of the warflat and warwell are available from Parkwood Models. In the early 1990's the MoD purchased some new warflat wagons and these are used to transport armoured vehicles about the place, secured with heavy chains The military do not advertise their movements but the Chieftain tank could be transported by rail and the smaller vehicles such as armoured personnel carriers and light tanks are still occasionally moved on bogie flats. Smaller vehicles such as jeeps, landrovers, two wheeled trailers and the like are shifted on one plank wagons or the more modern lowfit equivalents. Lorries were moved on Lowmac drop-centre wagons, these days I suspect they would need to hire Comtics for these but they might get away with a converted Freightliner flat wagon. Towed field artillery was usually draped in tarpaulins, making modelling rather easier, it could be shifted on longer flat wagons (one on a 'plate' wagon or equivalent, two or three on a bogie flat wagon).

After the second world war a number of 'Palbrick' pallet wagons were converted to carry heavy artillery shells. The existing body was retained but wooden internal partitions were built, forming a set of rectangular boxes, each holding a single round. I have never seen a photo of a loaded wagon of this type but I would assume they were sheeted over in transit and they would presumably be moved in rakes of ten or more wagons. The rake would require barrier wagons, these would be vans as the load was explosives, and I would assume they travelled as a block train.

The military stores depots were mostly rail served but they were built in the era of short wheelbase wagons. With the change to much longer wheelbase air braked stock a number of the ten foot wheelbase 'vanwide' vans (available from Parkwood Models) and the twelve foot wheelbase BR standard 'pipe' wagons (available from Parkside Dundas) were converted to air brake specifically for military traffic. These converted vehicles travelled in standard Speedlink services as wagon load traffic. Following the end of Speedlink in 1991 I believe there were only a couple of train load military movements but from 1994 the Enterprise wagon load service would allow for future military traffic of this type. Most military stores are shipped palletised and where clearances allow standard BR air braked vans are used.

As far as I am aware military goods are always handled on military siding except in times of emergency. During time of war any station might see military traffic. I believe military vehicles travel as block trains (it is obvious what they are and running them in wagon load services might attract the wrong kind of attention). The standard unit for tanks is four vehicles but eight would be a more probable block load.

In the early 1990's the MoD purchased a fleet of drop-centre four wheeled wagons designed to carry twenty foot long containers (these were originally used for coal traffic by a firm called Kelly's). I would assume these could run as either a block load or as single wagon load traffic. As the wagons are drop-centred the doors cannot be opened when the container is on the wagons.

Farm Machinery

In the main the loads of farm equipment have been 'one-off' jobs on a single wagon and included in conventional 'pick-up' goods services. I believe that virtually all this traffic was transported as wagon loads in conventional mixed goods trains.

The traditional British farm waggon was not often moved by rail as they were built to local designs by local wheelwrights so there was no general flow of these from factories to dealers. Taking such a cart to another part of the country would in any case be problematic as the spacing between the wheels had to conform to the local standard or the cart could not negotiate the heavily rutted roads.

There was a steady traffic in farm (and light industrial) machinery, virtually all railway companies built wagons for this traffic, commonly known as 'implement wagons' or 'machinery trucks'. Examples would include all the horse drawn farm equipment and also the 'portable engines'. The latter were either small steam engines or oil engines fitted with a pulley and used to drive machinery. The steam type and the larger oil type were moved on road wheels and would travel on an implement wagon or machinery truck.

Farm machinery was in the main designed to be easily moved about by the farmer, so it did not require heavy wagons to transport it. The (more or less) standard width for a farm field gate was about ten feet so a piece of farm equipment such as a horse drawn rake, made to fit through the gate, would be about nine feet wide. The lighter equipment could be easily craned in and out of wagons, heavier vehicles were moved on end-loading wagons. Heavier and larger equipment such as threshing machines would require a suitable machinery truck, something the size of a threshing machine would require a drop centre vehicle such as a 'Lomac' (Low Machinery truck).

Self powered steam engines, such as the ploughing engines available from W&T would normally travel by road, albeit rather slowly. If shipped by rail the chimney would be removed and stowed in the cab to reduce the overall height of the thing. There is usually a hinge at the base of the chimney, allowing it to drop forward, but I was assured by an enthusiastic owner at the steam ploughing competition that it would be removed for rail transport. A fairly hefty end-loading wagon would be required as the ploughing engines weigh in at about eleven tons I believe. Hefty wooden chocks, cut roughly to shape, would be fitted under both sets of wheels and the machine would be secured with chains not ropes.

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