Original plan: I wanted to buy a bunch of loads from JWD in Maine over the internet. I had purchased a couple sulfur loads for gondolas from them and was really impressed. When I looked at them, my first thought was, "Wow, everyone is their own little Michelangelo . . ." The order came with a hand written thank you note. I wanted more from JWD . . . but . . .
Problem: I ran out of money. Yes, I overextended myself. A quick google search showed me I wasn't the only person to ever do this. The former child actor Gary Coleman had a bit of a model train thing and went just about bankrupt with it. I feel your pain, little guy. My hope is that you're tooling around with heaven's coolest layout as we speak.
The Solution (or so I thought): homemade loads! Get some styrofoam, shape it a bit with sandpaper, paint it black, and voilá, coal loads for my gondola rolling stock. How hard could it be?
Well, hard. My Michelangelo analogy above should have clued me in to the fact that there's a process, real skill, and an art to it.
My first attempts (and subsequent ones) looked like the cocaine bricks in that Johnny Depp movie:
When I painted them black they looked like hash brownies baked in a gondola:
Being stubborn, I kept trying and trying only to end up with more cocaine bricks that turned into hash brownies. DAMN!
Enter an Angel: I was talking to my sister on the phone and she suggested getting some anthracite coal on my next visit home to Reading, Pennsylvania, my hometown (yes, THAT Reading of the Reading Railroad). Whereas I spent almost my entire childhood in Reading, she had a greater memory of Pottsville in the County immediately to the north whose name I frequently misspell and won't attempt here. There's coal in the waste piles from the mines here and there in the Anthracite Coal Regions.
We took a trip up to the abandoned town of Centralia and went rock collecting. The place is kind of bizarre - all but abandoned except for one beautiful Ukranian (?) church. A bunch of high school kids were hiking up and down the abandoned stretch of highway.
In spite of my profession, I had never done any field geology back East where I'm from. This was a fun trip. There are a bunch of terrigenous (a fancy name for deposited on land) rock layers that have been folded, some tipped vertical or overturned. They go from pebbly to sandy to silty and to the carbon-rich paydirt in specific layers of anthracite. We found at least one tree limb fossil impression - they're pretty common - it is after all ancient bogs and forests that get compressed and lithified to make the coal.
When I got back to my sister's place near Reading, I sealed the few pounds of coal in a tupperware-like container and put that inside a two gallon bag. It didn't trash out my luggage but the cheap plastic container didn't make it. Thank God for that sealed bag.
On the flight home I met a mining engineer from near Pottsville who still works in the anthracite business. It turns out that anthracite is still used a great deal for water filtration. Our flight was from Philly to Phoenix. He was headed out to Arizona to work on the Colorado River project. I had had no idea and I lived in Arizona on and off for 17 years.
Let's try this again: my process is fairly simple. I go out to my garage and just tap the coal pieces with a sledgehammer until they get reasonably small. This is the one place where I could probably stand to take more time and care, but I just didn't have the experience or patience to get it perfect. My rock chips are nowhere near the HO scale 1:87 of the real life size. I can live with that.
For the rolling stock I don't worry about overweighting them too much. Before I try to put a coal load on them I've already weighted them to the NMRA standard. This guarantees that they are going to end up being considerably overweight. My rationale goes that I need the weight near the bottom of the cars to stabilize them so that when I put more weight at the top, they are not top heavy. Disclaimer: I am a newb and may well be full of it.
Rather than try to perfectly shape the styrofoam like I was trying to do before, I just put enough styrofoam into the bottom of the car to raise up a flat surface (a piece of cardboard) toward the top of the bed of the coal carrier - I don't want to fill the whole car. I then put down layers of Elmer's glue and sprinkle coal on top of it and repeat until it looks all right. I could do better, but these sure beat those awful first cocaine brick attempts with the styrofoam.
That white goop on the lower right part of the car by the brake wheel is the Elmer's glue that hasn't dried yet. I am making these loads semi-permanent. To the best of my knowledge, you can separate Elmer's glue from plastic, but it might get messy and damage the car. Then again, how could one call putting anthracite into a Reading Railroad anthracite coal car model train abuse?
Another coal icon in Peabody. This is a bit of a mismatch because, I believe, Peabody specializes mainly in bituminous coal that comes out of Wyoming and the Four Corners area on the Navaho Res. I worked with a Peabody metallurgist about 10 years ago in the mining industry. He was a genuine member of the extended dynasty. Nice guy, helped me out a lot. In his honor, I shall call this car "Mark."
That's about it for the homemade coal loads. Thanks for stopping by.