Prior to about 1920 most timber carried by rail was tree trunks and long heavy baulks, the actual cutting, planing and finishing of the wood was done at the local timber merchants or in the factory which used the wood.
Almost all timber is felled in late autumn when sap is at its lowest level in the tree, the leaves have fallen and the general ground cover is reduced making it easier to drag the trunks out of the woods. Timber can also be cut in the midsummer, again when the sap is at a low ebb, although recovering the wood is then more difficult. Farmers would plant a group of trees of mixed types, called a 'coppice' to supply their own needs and also as a cash crop. When the trees were felled and auctioned off it was common practice to send a hand crane to the local goods yard to help with the loading of the wood onto wagons.
Tree trunks, tree stumps and timber large baulks went on flat wagons, well roped down.
For trunks I use twigs soaked in dilute PVA to preserve them, for tree stumps I have used the ends of twigs with the 'roots' represented by either teased out 'hairy string' or a bit of hair recovered from a comb in either case a coating of undiluted PVA stiffens and randomly thickens the 'roots'. Long timber lengths, tree trunks and baulks, could also be carried on two or three swivelling single bolster wagons as available from Peco. The photo below shows a load of tree trunks on a pair of GCR single bolsters (shortened Peco models), this load is actually for another wagon, note how the securing ropes do not line up with the bolsters. It is a good idea to mark the bottom of any such load, if it is removable. with a code to identify the wagon it belogs with.
Fig ___ Tree trunks on single bolsters
For baulks of timber I use Bryant & May extra long matches obtained from my local hardware shop, you can soak the head of the match off with water but the other end has a rounded profile where it was held in the machinery at the match works and you may need to cut the last 2mm or so off the stick.
Around the time of the First World War we started importing a lot more pre-cut timber, usually of Baltic softwoods (pine etc). This was commonly known as 'deal' timber, deal being an old term for cut pine. As most of this kind of wood was imported the major flows were from the docks but the destinations could be anywhere on the railway system. Close to the docks you would see entire trains of such timber heading for the marshalling yards whilst inland there might only bee an occasional wagon load going to a station goods yard or a few going to a timber merchants.
The LMS (and possibly other companies) built special 'deal wagons' for this traffic. These wagons were simple flat wagons with wheelbases in the twelve to fifteen foot range and with loops attached to the solebar for securing chains (see Fig ___).
Deal timber was also regularly carried in standard four and five plank open wagons, on which the load often stuck out over the end of the wagon. Peco offer a 'timber wagon load' of this type, which does overhang the end of the wagon slightly, but to add some variation I add a few addition planks from 10 thou Microstrip. Coming from the docks you would see rakes of timber carrying wagons but the timber was loaded so that the overhanging ends were not facing each other. Remember you will need a 'match wagon' at the end where the load extends over the end of the last wagon, to avoid damage to vans etc.
Barrels for liquids were usually made from imported Baltic oak. Oak can be split along the grain and is the best timber for making barrels (it was also used for making the spokes on wooden cart and waggon wheels). British oak trees grow too bent and twisted for making barrel staves but in the Baltic the oak trees were planted surrounded by pines (called 'nurse trees') and so grew quickly and straight. The trees were felled, the wood was sawn into short planks and the cut timber was then shipped over by sea. It is perhaps worth noting that the advanced industrial society using the barrels was entirely dependent on the peasant farmers providing for the fourth unborn generation.
The standard size for oak barrel staves was five foot six inches long (160 cm), three inches (7.5 cm) thick by five inches (12.5 cm) wide as this was long enough to make the largest common barrel. The staves were shipped loose and would be stacked on end in open wagons for rail transport. They were not usually sheeted over as they were well seasoned by the time they arrived in Britain.
The easiest way to make such a load is to glue some used match sticks down (packed closely side by side) to a scrap of wood with water soluble PVA glue then sand them down to about half thickness. You can then cut them to length with a razor saw whilst they are still glued down and release the resulting 'planks' by soaking in water.
Mines used large quantities of wooden pit props, in the 1920's about half of all the wood moved by rail was pit props (about eight million tons a year) but by the end of the nineteen thirties the quantity moved had fallen to about four million tons a year. Wood is not terribly heavy however so that still represents an awful lot of wagon loads on the system.
Pit props are always soft wood, supplied in lengths ranging from two and a half foot long to eleven foot long (in increments of about 6 inches) and in diameters ranging from three inches to about a foot. The standard measure used for charging for the transportation of pit props is the English (cubic or 'pile') Fathom, which is 6 feet x 6 feet x 6 feet, or 216 cubic feet.
Pit wood is pit props with the bark still in place, pit props are always used with the bark removed and most were shipped in this condition. Quite a lot were however supplied with the bark in place, this being removed by the mine in its own workshops. Current regulations (1989) specify less than 5 percent of the bark must remain on `peeled' props.
The props must be straight and roughly even in length, with no protruding knots or branch stubs which might be snagged and cause a collapse. `Split props' are props which have been cut along their length and so have a half round section, these are used to support the roof, being supported in turn by conventional props to either end. Wooden pit props are still used in all British coal mines, although only for temporary support. It would be usual to see several wagon loads in a train, the props were generally imported and a mine would have a block load delivered from the docks.
Another essentially similar load regularly hauled from the docks would be 'pulp wood' going to larger paper works. This load is similar in size and appearance to pit props and shipped with all bark removed.
I made some rather out-size pit prop loads from wooden cocktail sticks, the resulting props are a bit thick and the grain is way out of scale, however they are a lot cheaper than the (more accurate) lengths of round section Slaters Microrod.
An alternative is to use spaghetti but this can be tricky to get to the correct length as it tends to shatter. I have been told that dampening the area where you are going to cut to soften it, then letting the cut lengths dry, might work but I have not actually tried this yet. I cut the cocktail sticks to length using heavy craft knife and a simple jig made from an L shaped piece of 40 thou card glued to a scrap of plywood to keep a constant scale length of nine feet (near enough 18mm). If you have a Mitre box you can g-clamp a block of wood to the bottom to ensure a standard length of cut, this would allow you to cut several cocktail sticks at one go with a razor saw.
Note at nine foot length the props would be loaded at an angle leaning on one end of the wagon to keep the overall height within the loading gauge. This meant the props were sticking out over one end of the wagon and a runner wagon would be placed at the end of a rake of such wagons so the overhanging load of the last wagon would not foul any vans which might be attached.
An alternative loading arrangement for long pit props is shown in Fig ___ in which the props are stacked horizontally between vertical props standing against the wagon sides. This arrangement was used with end-door private owner wagons as it avoided any load against the end door catches or its top-mounted hinge bar. The railway companies also sometimes used this method of loading as it allowed them to stack the longer props piled quite high in relatively low sided four or five plank open wagons and did not require a 'runner' wagon.
If the props were short, perhaps six or seven feet long, two such stacks could be built up in a wagon, each with four uprights as shown.
Fig ___ Wagon loads of wood
At the top is a pair of bolster wagons loaded with tapering logs, note how these are loaded alternate ways to give a stable load. Special gangs of timber loaders were often employed for loading tree trunks and the like.
The middle wagons show typical roped loads of cut timber and pit props, and the bottom sketch shows pit props loaded horizontally into a PO end-door mineral wagon as described above. The South Wales collieries were fond of using their own wagons to carry pit props as they would otherwise return empty from the docks and this avoided the cost of hiring a railway company wagon.
Loads of cut pine trees for the British Railways Timber P wagons (converted from the old Plate wagons and Conflat Ps) can also be made using cocktail sticks. The result does not look too bad although the loads on these wagons tended to be slightly curved. BR built a number of these wagons in the late fifties and early sixties. The first build of these wagons was for the old West Highland line in Scotland where they carried local timber to pulp mills. These wagons were divided into two sections, each about eleven and a half foot long, by a central planked division the same shape as the end timbers.
Fig ___ BR 'Timber P' wagons
Later batches had no central division and were used to carry imported timber from ports in East Anglia and Bristol, see the Kit Bashing section for further details on modelling these wagons. Adding a load would provide support for the delicate ends and side framing on the models.
Cordwood is short lengths of wood, about a foot to two foot six long, cut up trees, branches etc. This stuff was imported in large quantities and also produced in the UK and is used in wood distillation plants to produce a range of chemicals . The Forest of Dean was a major producing area for such chemicals and books on the railways in that area contain illustrations of the factories. The cordwood and products from such an establishment might form useful wagon loads. For the cordwood use the Peco 7 plank fitted with coke rails, add a dummy floor at the top and load this with 2 - 5 mm long lengths of assorted small diameter rod and/or small bits of twig and human/pet hair. Paint the white plastic rod dark brown before cutting to represent bark and the cut ends will look like fresh `wood'. By the mid 1950's the fork lift truck was making its presence felt and shipments of pre-cut 'deal' timber began to appear 'banded' into solid rectangular loads. A couple of shorter lengths might be added to the bottom of the stack to allow the fork lift to get under it.