Containers are not new, coal containers were used on the Bridgewater canal before the railways existed, and there have been a great many different types used (see Fig ___). In the section on kit-bashing I have included notes on building GWR mineral containers and MR/LMS steamer coal and crushed stone containers with their associated wagon. The standard railway containers are fully discussed in the section on Rolling Stock Development under Containers.
Peco offer the BK furniture or bicycle container in their range, this can be modified to a general purpose container by scribing on side-door detail. It is best to use the kit for this, rather than a more expensive liveried model, as you will have to re-paint the box and add markings. The railway company closed containers with a B prefix were the larger types (such as the Peco BK/BC) and filled the length of a standard ten foot wheelbase wagon.
There were also shorter `A' types, such as the insulated container in the Fleetline range and there was an article in the N Gauge Journal some years ago on making up general purpose A type containers from postcard. Personally I would probably go for the ready-made A types as loads as I tend to be a bit ham fisted and making more than one of anything I find difficult. I have produced some by cutting down Peco containers and adding strapping from 10x20 thou card, to avoid detailing the door end I added a tarpaulin (suggesting the container had a leaky roof) which obscures most of the door.
Fig ___ Peco containers, some modified as A type
There were also open containers, the C's and D's which can be made up from postcard or Slaters 10 thou plasticard. Adding a load to the open types is a good idea as the load reinforces them. There were also small containers coded H (short for Hod), generally about 4 planks high, slightly smaller than the type C and often fitted with a flat top or lid. These as their name suggests were used for shipping building materials such as tiles and the like. They can be made from four layers of 40 thou plasticard but when I tried this I found I had to sand down the sides to the point where the 'plank' effect was lost and it is probably easier in practice to make them up from postcard or scribed 10 thou card. These Hod type boxes were usually shipped in standard open wagons rather than on special container flats.
Fig ___ Making Open Containers
Containers were also used for fish traffic, the Midland Railway built some containers for shipping live fish at about the time of the first World War and the GWR used what appears to be the same design of container for dead and possibly frozen fish in the 1930's.
Fig ___ Live fish containers
The LMS used a smooth sided cubic design carried in standard vans I believe.
Containers used for fish traffic were insulated to keep the fish cool and fresh and in the British Railways insulated 'meat' container (type FM) was sometimes used for fish up to the late 1970's. The early British Railways conducted several experiments with containers of various types. Some of these can be fairly easily reproduced, I made a `bulk flour' tank container from a Peco 10 foot wheelbase chassis oil tank based on a photograph in Dave Larkin's book on BR standard freight stock. BR also had a pretty successful `bulk cement' container (the L type) shipped three to a wagon which was a simple box shape. Modelling details of both these types will be found in the section on 'Kit Bashing'.
The old style railway containers were usually carried on specially modified or purpose built flat wagons, to which they were secured with turnbuckles or bottle-screws. These can (with some difficulty) be folded up from a length of wire, but in N it is easier to use a length of 10 thou plastic rod with either a slip of paper glued to it or two short pieces (3 mm is about right) of microrod cemented either side to represent the turnbuckle. The central rod is then cut to length and glued in place on the side of the container. For the tank types, where this would lie well clear of the body, a length of wire threaded through the body itself and looped down to the chassis is more resistant to handling, the turnbuckle being suggested by a 3 mm length of microstrip super-glued half way along its length. The turnbuckles and chains were invariably black. Where a container wagon was not available they might be carried in low (1 plank) or medium (3 plank) open wagons. If the wagon was not in any way modified the containers were tied in place with rope. There is a drawing of a one plank open wagon which has been modified for use with containers in the livery drawings for the LMS. The modification simply involved adding securing points along the top of the wagon sides and something very similar can be made using a Peco single bolster wagon as a basis.
Fig ___ Adding Turnbuckles to containers
De-mountable tanks have been used since the late 1930's to carry various liquids, examples include the rum tanks illustrated in the section on Rolling Stock Development, the beer and glue tanks shown in the section on Freight Operations and the acid and chemical tankers in the section on Livery Information (all further discussed under Kit Bashing). Fleetline offer a demountable tank used for sulphuric acid as a kit and a couple of these can be mated with the tanks from a W&T twin oil tank kit to supply you with a pair of tanks for anti-knock agent.
British Railways introduced a number of container types, modelling the L type cement container is discussed in the section on Kit Bashing.
Fig ___ Model of BR era L type containers
The post war ISO containers
Dominating the transport scene today is the ISO standard Container. Originally designed to a US Department of Defence specification these are intended to be built to a standard size and consist of a solid floor with square section corner supports which enable the boxes to be stacked on top of one another. The boxes come in multiples of ten foot lengths and were originally designed as eight foot high by eight foot wide. The restricted British loading gauge will not accept an 8 foot high box on a standard wagon chassis, so after some experiment with low-centred machinery wagons special 'Freightliner' wagons were produced with smaller than usual wheels providing a low floor. These latter are used in fixed rakes with only the outer ends of the end wagons fitted with a raised buffer beam and conventional couplings, the inner vehicles use a special combined buffer-coupling. In practice the standard has proved difficult to maintain and although Europe initially adopted the 8 foot by 8 foot end size some American firms decided to make the boxes 8 foot internal height, producing 8 foot 6 inch high boxes. In the early 1980's even higher boxes appeared and nine foot high examples became relatively common. BR had to build special drop centred wagons (called 'lowliners') to accommodate these as they are too high to ride on standard Freightliner flats. More recently nine foot six inch high containers have appeared on international trades which present problems for the British railways requiring very low floored rolling stock, usually these are moved on purpose built four wheeler wagons or in special 'pocket wagons'. The 10 foot containers were rare by 1980 rare and 30 foot containers are not often seen, the 20 foot has for many years been the most popular and the 40 foot container has become increasingly common since the 1980s.
The original Graham Farish freightliner wagon uses small pins to secure the containers to the chassis, the basic dimensions are as shown below but note these may change if Bachman updates the model.
Fig ___ Graham Farish container dimensions
There are a great many different ISO container types in use, including half-height open containers (used for shipping aluminium ingots and other jobs), flat containers with full height ends but no sides at all, boxes with a canvass top and tank containers often consisting of a standard cylindrical tank in an open framework. Low sided containers are used for dense loads such as bricks; the container crane will have a standard capacity and a full size container full of bricks would weigh too much.
Note that not all containercan be stacked, the photos below show - Top- a half height container with top mounted lifting points, this type can be stacked. Below left - A half height container with no top lifiting points, this type cannot be stacked. Below right - close up of the H section metal side stanchions into which the side panels could be inserted.
Fig___ Stackable and non stackable half height containers
Open containers with just the floor and ends are used for shipping tractors and the like and today coils of steel are sometimes exported in 20 foot open `boxes'. The coils are usually covered with tarpaulins so they can be easily represented with a short length of something cylindrical covered with tissue paper soaked in PVA glue and painted. The examples I have seen used dark blue tarpaulins with white and yellow markings (very small so just use dots of paint) and they appeared to be sitting on some kind of square base, with the tarpaulin attached to this forming a rounded `tent' shape. The base may well have been something similar to the steel frame used to allow fork lift trucks to move the coils without having the handle the coils themselves, these are used on BAA open wagons as mentioned above. A 20' long full-height open container could be used for cable drums, four drums six or seve fet in diameter and perhaps three feet wide would consitiute a suitable load, five could be lifted but four is an easier option for modelling. These would be chocked in position, probably on properly built timber frames, and secured with chains or ropes to the container base.
Fig ___ Open ISO containers and loads
Some ISO container `tanks' are standard looking boxes lined with plastic but there are many firms using conventional cylindrical tanks with domed ends which sit on a floor and are encased in a steel framework. The design of the frame seems to be fairly standard but the tanks come in a range of sizes. These can be made up from Plastruct tube and dome sections with plasticard or Plastruct sections forming the frames (I made one using a Minitrix oil tank and another with a Peco tank (from the 10 foot wheelbase chassis kit). The 'beam tank' is the easy option, you can use a commercial container to mark out the ends (rectangles of plain 20 thou card 16mm square), the tank itself is a length of Plastruct TBFS12 tube with an inner tube of TBFS10 (or just a length of till roll tube no more than 15mm in diameter), on the outer face of the ends a thin slice of TBFS10 is added and rectangles of 10x20 thou on the corners represent the securing/lifting points. Livery can be applied easily using a paper wrapper.If you wish to make this a removable load however you can add a floor of 20 thou card, cut notches in the sides of this and add lengths of Slaters 20 thou brass rod, laid across the floor under the tank and bent down into the noteches, cut so 2mm extends below the floor, these will then engage in the sockets on the Graham Farish wagon. The chemical tank is a little more difficult as you need to make up the framing from 20x20 thou strip but the tank body can be represented using a length of Plasturct tube, the filler can be a scrap of circular sprue, the platforms can be 20 thou card resting on 10x20 thou strips set into cuts on the top of the tank. The supports can be Plastuct L section (not accurate but it looks okay). To make life much easier you can use solid ends of 20 thou card, this means you only need to accurately cut the two top rails and the side supports and diagonals, all from 20x20 thou strip.
Fig ___ ISO 'tank' containers
There are also containers with canvas (actually plastic) roofs which can be top-loaded with powders and the like, and containers with canvas sides which provide access for fork lift trucks to load pallets. These are simple modifications to standard commercial containers but personally I prefer to mass produce the boxes using a length of 'half inch PAR' timber planed down to size with detail added from paper and scraps of post card. There are a number of prototype ISO container types illustrated in the section Unit Loads - Modern Containers, Road Railer, Piggyback and Swap Bodies, Freightliner specific containers and operations are described in more detail in the section Freight Operations - Air Braked Freightliner Container Services .
Making open and tank ISO container types is not difficult, the models shown below are from my early days in N Gauge modelling and are somewhat crude but they do not look out of place mixed in with commercial models. The tank took about 15 minutes to make, based on a length of till roll supplied by a local shop, this was 16mm in diameter, which is a bit large, 15mm or 14mm would have been better (the smallest till roll centre I have so far found is 15mm in diameter). I used solid ends for simplicity, rectangles of 30 thou card, and to allow fitting of brass wire securing pins I added a base plate (not really required for a modern 'beam tank' if you plan to glue it to the wagon). To add the top rails I should have cut notches into the corners of the ends, I didn't and had to add a strip of card across each end to reinforce these. The folding end or 'flatrack' container base is made from three strips of 30 thou card with notches in the centre strip for the 'fork lift points', this is a case of do as I say not as I did. You should sand all three pieces to size then assemble the top two strips and sand down until they are about 1.5mm shorter than the base. Add the base and then add the ends, when the ends are added glue these to the base and the ends of the top two strips, producing a very sturdy model. Mine has the ends glued to the top of the base with 30x30 thou reinforcing strips, they are not very visible but if I had added a load these would have been hidden (another job that has been waiting for twenty years). Half height containers are very easy, just sand the sides and ends of a Farish container flat, cut the thing in half and add side detail from strip. Adding a tarpaulin to these saves having to make a load, I have four from the bottom end of the Farish containers with lengths of Plastruct tube in them to give some shape to the supposed 'load'. You can add the fork lift sockets to the Farish based half height boxes using a laundry marker pen.
Fig ___ Models of unusual ISO' containers
My tank container lacks detail, it was based on a small photo in a trade magazine when I was on a ship, the photo below shows an actual example of the type, note the walk-way on the top and the slight dome showing through the end (which can be ignored if the container is sandwiched between two others).
Fig ___ Photo of a HOYER tank container
Some of the large Metropolitan boroughs use reinforced 'Easidispose' containers for rubbish traffic (London &Greater Manchester and Bristol all do and possibly others). These fell under the aegis of the 'construction' sector in BR days as the rubbish is used for land-fill. These are tricky to model as they feature a body smaller than the standard 'box' with heavy external framing, and you need a train load (at least 15 twenty foot boxes).
Fig ___ Binliner containers
Since the 1990s there has been a move in Europe to using a European standard size for all packaging and the containers to carry them, euro-pallets will not fit neatly into ISO containers (nor would the older style pallets) but they do stack properly in these new containers which are slightly wider than the ISO 8 foot standard. As I understand it the Euro containers are carried exclusively in 'pocket wagons' but there may be flats in use for these. For more information on the history and development of container types see also Unit Loads - Modern Containers, Road Railer, Piggyback and Swap Bodies.
Containers shifted in Speedlink and more recently Enterprise trains are generally not built to ISO specifications, they are built to suit the British loading gauge when running on standard height wagons. The early examples were all twenty foot long and they were originally carried in pairs on BR owned bogie flat wagons (Conflat E). Subsequently ex BR Zinc block wagons and ex PO tank wagon chassis were used, the latter being available from Peco. Modelling early coal containers and suitable wagons is discussed in the section on Kit Bashing. In the late 1980's Bernard Taylor of Taylor Plastic Models worked in association with Graham Farish Ltd to produce a modern air braked wagon chassis suitable for a range of early air braked wagons and vans. These chassis have also formed the basis of a series of container carriers which can carry a single thirty foot container, not to full ISO height however.
Farish offer the wagon with a closed 'box' and Taylor Plastic Models offer the same chassis with both Type 1 and Type 2 open containers, Mr. Taylor has also produced an open frame insert which can be fitted to the chassis to produce an unloaded wagon. The open topped containers carry coal, coke, rock salt for road gritting and a range of other materials usually minerals. Rock salt is a dirty grey/white colour and when shipped it is ground to a coarse granular consistency, fine sand would do for this. The salt is poured in about the middle and the peak of the pile often shows above the top of the container.