The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading

  NUMBER 172


© May 12, 2011   

 ©Discover Live Steam. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.

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My Railcar Project


Written  by Terry D Spahr

I enjoy history and have become interested in railroad history, specifically from my home state of Pennsylvania.

I was reading about Col. Edwin L. Drake’s discovery of oil in northwestern Pennsylvania in Venango County, in the Oil Creek Valley in 1859, and its connection to the railroad. 

Strangely enough, there was no railroad to Titusville where oil was first pumped from the ground.  It was loaded in wooden barrels and either floated down the creek to teamsters who loaded it on wagons and took it to the nearest railroad or hauled directly from Titusville on horse drawn wagons.  The capacity of a wagon at that time probably did not exceed 8 barrels.

When the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad was built from Corry to the wells in 1862, oil continued to be loaded on flat cars in barrels and taken to market.  The number of barrels or gallons that could be transported was limited.  Two brothers, Amos and James Densmore, two farmers who lived at the nearby Miller Farm, saw the need to transport oil in greater quantities.  They developed, and were the first to use, a wooden tank for the transport of oil to market which was at that time in New York!  The cars were known as oil vat cars and carried 1700 gallons in each tank or 3400 gallons on each flat car.  The first train carrying oil in the Densmore oil vat cars was checked at each station for leaks and secureness (they were top heavy) as it made its way across PA to New York.  

An historic marker is located on US Highway 8 near the location commemorating the Densmores and the oil vat tank cars.  Shortly thereafter, because of their limitations, horizontal wooden tanks were developed to carry oil secured to flat cars.  Hundreds of tanks of the Densmore Tank design could be seen scattered along the landscape as the new tanks and subsequently steel tanks began to be used to transport oil.  

So with that bit of history in mind and an article from The Home Railway Journal Spring 2010, I decided to build a 6 car train that was likely a frequent sight between Corry and Titusville in the 1860s. (Actually, I am building 10 cars but this article and this train dates to the 1860’s.  The combine and other 4 car train and its cars will follow in a couple of months).

The train consists of two very short flat cars with oil vats secured to the deck and a pipe car with two idler cars to accommodate the extra length of pipe.

 I’ve decided to build the combine next, to complete the train, and then the other four will follow (circa 1940)!  Additionally, with the extra space on the idler flats, I’ve provided two seats.  On the initial test run at the club, Jerry and I rode the two cars while Miles pulled us with his diesel locomotive.  The sturdiness of the cars is amazing and, even though built with wood, the steel spine running from end to end and the Plum Cove trucks make a very serviceable car for display or riding.

Most people build one car at a time, but I discovered that building 5 or 10 was nearly as easy as one, except for the additional cost of material.  Also, all of these cars are flat cars that were modified to some extent by the railroad for carrying everything from ballast, coal, machinery, pipe, and lumber to cattle.  (During the Civil War they carried cannons, cattle, horses, and supplies to the front lines).  I followed the plans in The Home Railway Journal  article with very few exceptions. 

I started with the plans for the various flats and bought the steel tubing (1x2 inch) and the 3/8” flat bars for the truck attachment.  I welded them at my shop.  I bought 5/8 inch plywood for the decking and ¾ inch thick red oak in various widths for the rest of the wood.  The decking was covered with 1/8 inch oak and stained.

I purchased Plum Cove trucks unassembled, and hardware from Branchline Products and Precision Steel Car.  The turnbuckles came from Home Depot and the left-hand die and brass stock came from McMaster Carr

The article modifies the turnbuckles for the truss rods but I chose to thread left hand rods.  The rods were pre-bent and installed, then tightened.  The brace at the middle of each truss rod was screwed down last to the body.  The 30 foot and the 28 foot cars are of the truss rod type.  Shorter cars had no truss rods.  In fact, there was no room on the oil vat cars for rods as they were only 22 feet long!

The idea of using aluminum rail for the queen posts was unique and I found some short pieces of track at the club and modified them for the posts (right).

The Densmore oil vats were the first challenge.  I had a cardboard form for concrete footings from another project (lower right). It was 10 inches in diameter.  By the time that I added the oak staves on the outside, I had added an additional 1 ½ inches making the diameter about 11 ½ inches.  Since the car width was 15 inches, this was close to the right size.  If I had to do it again, I’d buy a 12 inch diameter tube and add the 1 ½ inch staves making the total diameter closer to the width of the flat car, making it shorter than the 9 ¼ inches.  I cut the staves from a piece of red oak with the saw blade at an angle.  I started with a 3 ½ inch board cut 12 inches long and after the first cut through on the table saw, I flipped it over for the next cut and then flipped it again end for end for the last cut.  This gave me 4 pieces of wood that when joined together formed the radius of the tank (below). After the glue dried, I cut the ends of the tanks off on the table saw and built the tops to the tanks (below).  I used Loctite Power Grab glue to attach them to the cardboard cylinder and clamped them for the night.  I used Power Grab in pressurized tubes throughout the project. 

Next we used ½ inch steel banding material with a unique twist of the metal by my neighbor. He formed the attachment with screws which allowed us to tighten the bands after installing them.  Yes, that’s the same neighbor and friend who helped me build barns, hog pens, chicken houses, and the OS Mogul, Jerry Bushrow!  When I first took the oil vats to the club, they were called everything from pickle cars, and vinegar tanks to water cars.  So I guess you could build them for your train and call them whatever fits your need. 

The paint for the cars was automotive primer (boxcar red) with a coat of satin clear coat as a top coat.  The clear coat made a good smooth surface for the graphics which I added last. They were supplied by South Bay Vital Signs.  I chose School Book style lettering for the cars.  For the car numbers, I used my grandchildren’s birthdays along with my own and Jerry’s. 

The stain that we used was English Oak and we applied it liberally to get the desired effect for a tank that carried and leaked oil!  I wiped it on in multiple coats to get the desired effect.  I did not rub it but let it flow down and dry to make it look like what I pictured as an oil vat car with leaks here and there.  A friend and member of LALSRM, Peter Fowler, calculated the scale model capacity of the tanks at 1616 gallons!  Close enough!

The pipe car followed the tanks cars.  Not wanting to buy hundreds of feet of EMT (conduit) for pipe, I built a box in the middle of the car behind the stakes and used 20 inch sections of pipe to fill the load to the top and then topped off the load with full 60 inch pieces of pipe.  I used three sizes of EMT.  The load was raised 12 inches (1 ½ inches) above the flat car with cribbing so that the load forward and rearward did not strike the idler cars.  This proved to be adequate clearance, as we checked on the test run.  The car is a 30 foot car and the pipe is 40 feet in length so the overhang is minimum onto the idlers.  So, since I have 4 grandchildren who love riding the trains at the club, I attached a seat on each idler car for them to ride. 

The name on the cars is Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, the actual name of the first railroad into Titusville from Corry.  It is an operational railroad today, carrying tourists through the Oil Valley to view Drake's well and other historic sites related to the discovery of oil. 

I will write an article regarding the combine and then the additional 4 cars when I have them started in a month or so.  They will be a low side gondola with ballast, a high side gondola with coal, 2 forty foot flat cars with 1/8th size tractors and hit and miss engines. 

The combine will complete the Oil Creek train, making it a mixed train, which was common in the rural areas.  I took drawings of the exterior and interior of a combine of that era and had them blown up to full size and mounted on foam core.  So while building it I will not have to calculate each piece and each dimension from the scale in the book to 1/8th size.  It’s on the wall in the shop at home.

Bob Crone says that we will double head with all ten cars, but this time it will be me in front and him in the back as helper service pulling his red caboose.  Should be a sight to see!




Written  by Terry D Spahr

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