Make a Coil Steel Load for Model Train

  • 01 of 04

    Model a Coil Steel Load

    Coil steel cars come in all shapes and sizes. The loads can be as interesting as the cars themselves.
    © Ryan C Kunkle

    Coils of sheet steel are a common load on the rails. Used in the manufacturing of many things, steel coils can be seen traveling the rails all across the country. All coils are not created equally, however.

    Depending on the final use, the steel sheet in these coils can come in a variety of forms. Some require protection from the elements during shipment. These can be seen under tarps on flatbed trailers or protected by heavier steel covers on a variety of railcars.

    Other coils can be shipped without protection. Some of these may be en route to a facility that will treat the steel to make it suitable for other uses meaning that uncovered and covered loads could be seen at the same facility.

    These unprotected loads also make an interesting open load for model trains. These steel coils can be found in gondolas, coil cars and occasionally on special racks on flatcars.

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  • 02 of 04

    Modeling the Coils

    Paint and markings dress up a stock kit and give model coils character
    ©Ryan C Kunkle

    The first part of modeling a coil load is of course, the coils. There are good models of steel coils in most of the common modeling scales. These commercial castings and kits can be used as is or enhanced.

    The coils seen here came from Walthers.

    Because different types of steel can be shipped as coils, they can be many different sizes and colors. You can create a good bit of variety in your loads and suggest different steels for different customers by simply painting them in different shades of gray or silver.

    After painting the coils, make the details pop by highlighting the banding straps which keep them coiled. These are usually black and can be easily colored using a permanent marker or pen.

    Some coils are also marked with chalk at the mill. These markings can indicate weight, a shipping number, length, etc. Recreate these marks with a white pencil or pen or using a very thin brush or even a piece of wire to apply white paint.

    Steel exposed to the elements, even for a relatively short time, can also begin to show signs of light surface ​rust. There are many ways to recreate rust, but for light rust like this, a dusting with weathering powders will work best.

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  • 03 of 04


    Electrical tape makes convincing metal bands
    ©Ryan C Kunkle

    Some coils of steel must be protected from damage carefully during transit. This includes the potential scratches caused by trash or scrap left behind from previous loads. Cars in this service are often sent to a clean out track in a local yard prior to delivery to the mill for loading.

    Other cars can go years without a good cleaning. In these cars, debris can build up. The most common scrap is discarded banding from previous coil loads.

    These bands are easy to model. All you need is a straight edge, hobby knife, and some electrical tape.

    Cut the tape into thin long strips. Fold, twist and crumple the bands and place them at random around the car.

    Feel free to add some other trash, such as scraps of wood, paper, etc. to complete the look.

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  • 04 of 04

    Placing the Load

    Coils plus associated scrap make a complete load. A load like this is easy to make but adds a lot of "charm" to a gondola
    ©Ryan C Kunkle

    While coils are sometimes laid flat, most are placed on end in a cradle of sorts. Because these cradles are fixed to the car, cars used in coil service are rarely used for other loads.

    In addition to the cradle, there may be other restraints inside the car to help keep the coils from tipping over or sliding during transit.

    Due to the weight of the coils, a "full" load may not actually fill the entire care. Four or five coils may bring the car to its weight limit. The heaviest coils will be loaded over the trucks at the ends of the car. Additional coils will be loaded toward the center.

    On a model, the coils can be glued in place or left loose. This will allow you to run the car loaded or empty. Leave the trash and scrap behind!