and half years ago I joined a growing live steam club in the mountains one hour
north of Chattanooga called the Chattanooga Society of Model
Over the years the railroad has grown to include 6,500 feet of mainline track
and during that time I have built for myself two diesel locomotives and three
riding cars including a gondola, flat car and most recently an 8 foot riding car
(see photo above).
As CSME has grown so has the need for having safe riding
cars for the members and visiting guests. As the railroad has expanded, we
noticed that the line to ride the trains has steadily grown. My first drafts for
riding car plans were developed in fall 2004, but in the spring of 2005 I found
an article from a popular hobby magazine that had plans that had been used by
another live steam club for giving rides to the public. It was in the
January/February 2005 issue of Live Steam & Outdoor Railroading. The
article is titled “The NOELS Riding Cars”. After reviewing and thinking about
the article for a few weeks, I started building one car for myself.
The reason that we were looking into riding cars for the club instead of
using gondolas and boxcars is that on a riding car people typically sit closer
to the ground thus lowering the center of gravity which helps eliminate
derailments. The general public needs the benefit of a lower center of gravity
as they do not have the experience of riding equipment or knowing what actions
can result in a derailment. This riding car that I was building is so low that
it also allows the riders to straddle the car while sitting down. In addition,
the occupants can easily put their feet on the ground should the car derail.
The riding car was completed in June 2005 and was tested the same month. The
car worked well and as the locomotive engineer the best feature seemed to be
ability to place your feet on the ground when the train was stopped. I say this
because I was using a gondola car as the engineer’s car and raising my feet in
and out of the gondola becomes tiresome.
After the car was left in the car barn, I had numerous requests over the next
few weeks for people to borrow it. Everyone seemed to give great feedback. CSME
placed funding aside for building three cars for the club. Knowing that other
members had expressed interest, I asked if anyone else would like cars for
personal use. Two members took me up on this. I wanted to make sure I had all
the orders before starting construction (click images to enlarge).
The next weekend I was off to the local home center for plywood and lumber. I
chose ¾” birch plywood because I wanted a nice finish that could not have been
provided by using builder grade BC plywood. All of the plywood parts for a
single riding car are made from a single 4’ x 8’ sheet. One piece of each part
was cut and sanded down to size as accurately as possible. These pieces would be
used as patterns for cutting the remainder of the parts. Once rough cut a router
with a ½” pattern bit would be used to trim the pieces to their final shape.
This assured me that all of the parts were exactly the same size which would
make assembly easier.
For the steel framework, I chose to construct the
parts differently from the article so they could be added after the body was
painted. They were bolted to the car with ¼” lag bolts and carriage bolts. The
framework was designed to work on Mountain Car Company trucks and
couplers. Unlike on my riding car, these five would use MCC heavy duty trucks.
This was primarily due to the regular trucks bottoming out when three large men
sat on my prototype riding car.
After a few weeks, I was ready to assemble the parts. All of the items were
sanded smooth and checked to make sure that the parts would fit well. I used
water resistant wood glue with brads to hold the parts in place while they
dried. Screws were used for attaching the bottom of the car as they would bare
the weight of the passengers if they stood up on the car. Careful attention was
given to make sure that the surfaces that the trucks would sit on were true and
flat. Since the framework was added after the wooden car
was built, washers can be used as shims to assure that the bearing surfaces are
flat should the car change shape over time.
After painting my prototype riding car, I realized that the club cars would
need to be painted with a better paint. I had originally used a latex primer and
paint. The paint originally chosen was porch floor paint due to the fact the
paint is designed to be walked on and contains a high percentage of solids. The
problem that I had was that it took a few weeks to fully cure. Never having any
time to let the paint cure, I chose a better system by using Alkyd primer and
paint. The primer was applied with a furniture paint sprayer, allowed to dry and
then sanded. The next day, the paint was applied and a second coat was applied
the following weekend. The Alkyd finish was much nicer than the latex porch
paint. The color of the paint was chosen from the blue in our logo and color
matched by eye to paint samples. As a final touch, nonskid tape was added to the
floor boards to prevent it from being slick when wet.
The steel framework was then added to the cars and
the cars were then loaded for transport to the railroad. Once at the railroad,
the trucks, couplers and safety chains were added to the cars. They were
immediately placed in use as there were quite a few guests that day.
I have learned more about the riding cars since I build them. The cars are
relatively lightweight due to the plywood construction. This combined with stiff
heavy duty trucks pose a problem on uneven track when without passengers. The
eight foot riding cars are long cars and these cars will find the uneven track
on your railroad when five foot cars will not. If placed in a long train without
anyone riding them, they do have a tendency to derail more often than shorter
The original purpose for the riding car was to transport my family while
visiting the railroad. It serves this purpose well but with a gondola and flat
car also being pulled, my locomotive was starting to have traction issues on the
steeper grades. This caused me to design and build another locomotive, but that
is another article for another day.
Written by Stephen Wassell
For plans to build this car, please refer to
Live Steam & Outdoor
John Beck writes: "Stephen may be able to
solve his derailment problems by putting a 1/16 in. thick fender washer under
one truck on one end of each car. Also, pins to limit truck rotation so when
they derail the trucks stay within 15 or 20 degrees of parallel to the track are
important, this keeps a derailed car from making a sharp 'left' or 'right' turn
off the right of way before the train gets stopped. Also, it reduces the chance
of a sideways truck snagging something before stopped, and tearing up the truck,
track or car."