The On-Line Magazine of Rideable Model Railroading

  NUMBER 180


© January 01, 2012   

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 This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed without written permission.

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Gettin’ Them There
My "Swing Up" Rack System


Written by Berne Ketchum

A solution to a problem often presents other problems. I think problem solving is one of the things that makes our live-steaming hobby great — if everything were easy, what fun would it be?  

Everyone has some method for getting their rail equipment to the track, and here’s mine. A few years ago, I had one locomotive, a riding car and a combination baggage/coach that all fit neatly into the eight-foot box of my Ford F-150.  The locomotive really wanted more to pull, so to solve that problem I went into production and built two more coaches. Then I needed an RPO car. Suddenly, I had more than than I could load in my pickup, and spring was rapidly approaching. 

A trailer was a possibility, but had a couple of disadvantages: I didn’t want to pay for one, but mainly, I had no place to park it when it wasn’t in use. That led me toward devising some way to load more into the pickup, which meant a double-decker of some sort, and the necessary provision for loading and unloading the top deck easily.  

My locomotive and entire train of five cars will fit in an eight-foot pickup box. It takes about 40 minutes to load and secure everything — a little less time to unload.

The pickup completely unloaded.

The bottom has been unloaded and top rack is ready to lower.

Here’s the pickup with a full load. The locomotive is always bottom center to keep the center of gravity low and centered. The coaches on top weigh roughly 100 lbs. each.

The top rack being unloaded. Note that as the top rack swings down, it swings backward over the tailgate to about the
same unloading position as the lower level.

I used 1-1/2 x1-1/2 x 1/8 angle iron for the upper tracks, one flange facing upwards inside the wheel backs to prevent any chance of lateral shifting. A wooden strip protects the wheel treads and flanges from riding on steel. Wooden ramps at the back of each rail keep the cars from rolling off during the loading process. Note that the tracks are fastened to the lifting arms with U-bolts, and the U-bolts are kept from shifting sideways by a couple of socket head cap screws spaced closely on either side.

After considerable thought and study, I realized that I had re-invented the wheel. Auto transports have used top decks that can be lowered for years, and that’s the idea I ended up adapting. The solution evolved with a little time at the drawing board. I needed 24” of clearance above the bed for locomotive and cars on the bottom level. That dictated how high above the box sides the framework had to extend to support the pivots for the swing-down rack. It also determined how long the pivot arms needed to be, and where their pivot points would be.  The longer the swing arms, the less effort required to swing the top rack up to traveling position, but that meant that the frame had to be even higher. Also, with longer pivot arms, the back end of the upper rails would become unsupported and would begin to have a tendency to bounce. It took some erasing and re-drawing, adjusting the various dimensions to come up with the combination that finally worked the best. 

I welded the framework from 1” square steel tube and bolted it to wood stakes in the pickup stake pockets. The whole assembly (without cars) can be hoisted by block and tackle and secured to the ceiling joists of my garage if the pickup is needed for a more mundane purpose. The three cars weighed roughly 300 lbs., so mechanical advantage was needed. Connecting the cable to one side and running it down through a couple of blocks and back up to the other side gave a 2:1 advantage. Adding a boat trailer winch made the lift easy.  (An electric winch would be even easier … hmmm.) The lifting force working on the rear arms, acting through the tracks, also pushes up the front arms, minimizing the amount of cable and the number of pulleys. The top rack is pinned into travel position at all four corners, so that no load hangs on the lifting mechanism when we’re on the road. 

The upper rack is securely pinned (left) at all four corners when the rack is in travel position. Note that forged lifting eyes rather than ordinary eyebolts, and forged shackles are used. I didn’t want to take the chance that an eyebolt would open up under stress.

Mount your winch wherever you can get the best pull angle. For safety, be sure to use a winch with an automatic brake or a worm-drive.

The cars’ couplers latch onto rods at the front. These, combined with a couple of straps over the top and a fitted tarp cover keep everything securely in place.

The above photo by L. Johnson

The above photo by L. Johnson

The above photo by L. Johnson
Safety Note: Ordinary boat winches are not designed for lifting loads, so for safety, use a winch with a worm drive or an automatic brake. The handle on an ordinary boat winch could break your arm or beat you senseless if it gets away from you. 

I used 1-1/2 x1-1/2 x 1/8 angle iron for the upper tracks, with one flange horizontal, facing outward, and the other facing up inside the wheel backs to prevent any lateral shifting. I screwed a strip of wood to the horizontal legs to serve as tracks for the wheel treads. I didn’t want to chance flat spots on the aluminum wheels caused by bouncing on steel rails. 

The system is designed so that I can load and unload everything by myself in about 40 minutes, but an extra hand or two makes the process go more quickly. The exact cost of the rig escapes me, but I think it was around $200. 

My roster of equipment has grown a little since then and I’ve thought a couple of times about a trailer, but when I’ve stopped and considered everything, six units is about all the equipment I really want to transport. A locomotive and five cars is a reasonable train. The more stuff I haul to a venue, the more time I spend juggling cars around, and the less time I have to spend building rapport with other grumpy old men.  

 The cars are packed closely, so to keep them from contacting each other, I use ordinary plastic foam pipe insulation between them. It quickly became apparent that the foam crushes too much, but a piece of rope through it gives enough body.  Two ratchet straps — forward and rear — hold the cars and the foam tubes together nice and snug.

This pencil drawing is what I built the rack from, and it shows a bit of the design evolution
(click to enlarge). While the rack and frame pretty much represent the final product, you can see that
I’d started out with the idea of using a lever, which proved to be not practical.


NOTICE: All content on this page  is for general information only. While every effort was made to insure its accuracy, this information should not be used or relied on for any specific application without independent, competent professional examination and verification of its accuracy, suitability and applicability by a licensed professional. Anyone making use of this information does so at his or her own risk and assumes any and all liability resulting from such use.


Written by Berne Ketchum
photos by B. Ketchum and L. Johnson

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