Flatcar Brake Equipment

Discussion in 'Scratchin' & Bashin'' started by Xiong, Apr 14, 2008.

  1. Xiong

    Xiong Member

    I'm modeling late steam flatcars (SP 540028 and ATSF 90861); naturally, the supplied brake equipment is all wrong. I've bought decent-looking brake parts (Cal-Scale BW-351) but unfortunately, these seem to be made for boxes, reefers, hoppers -- almost anything except flats.

    The problem is that on most car types, the bw is mounted directly to the gear housing; the housing mounts to the side of the car. The bw itself is vertical -- that is, the axis of the bw is parallel to the long axis of the car. On these old flats, though, the bw is horizontal and the axis of the bw should be vertical -- straight up and down.

    On a related note, it's not clear just how long the bw shaft should be, between wheel and housing. On still another note, the entire nature of the housing on a flat is unclear to me. On other cars, a short chain drops from the bottom of the housing to a rod that engages the fulcrum at the edge of the undercarriage. Yet again, I have "brake rod with clevis" (Grandt Line 5184) and I can't figure out how this figures in.

    How does all this go on a flat? Devilishly difficult to get a clear prototype photo of late steam era flatcar brake equipment.
  2. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    From what I have read and observed, you will probably need to find photographs of the cars that you want to model. A lot of older cars were updated at various times over their lifespans. What may appear to be a new car could be a rebuild. Have you searched the internet?
    Hopefully, you will get more information from some of the experts here.
  3. Xiong

    Xiong Member

    I've been searching the web like mad; as I said, it's not easy to find just what you're looking for. I'm starting to get the general drift, though. At my level of ability, I'll settle for a plausible car, although I'd prefer prototypical accuracy.

    I believe I'm learning a lesson. (I'm new to modelling.) Up to now, I've bought a good-looking kit and tried to build it as well as possible, searching for resources that might help. Perhaps a better strategy is to locate a good set of prototype photos, then search for kits and parts that promise to help build it.
  4. modelsof1900

    modelsof1900 Member


    look for my Atlas reefer thread and I hope it will help you.

    I do not know essential differences between car types. The problem could be that the brake types differ in early years more than they will be documented.

  5. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    As a general rule of thumb, there shouldn't be any difference in brakes between flats, boxcars, etc...

    The more important characteristic is the time it was built/upgraded. I'd highly recommend reading up on the history of Westinghouse's air brakes.

    Here's a basic rundown of how the hand brake action works:
    There are a pair of brake levers (not always a pair...sometimes just one). These are connected via rods with clevises to each other, the brake cylinder, and the system of rods at each truck to pull the brake shoes onto the wheel treads. Additionally, another rod/clevis connects to one of the brake levers at one end and the chain at the other. The chain usually passes through a roller (which, I believe, was mounted on the side of the car once the bettendorf and other 20th century hardware packages came into common use). This chain connects to a spool at the base of the brake shaft. If either this chain is shortened (tightened), or the brake cylinder is engaged, it applies the brakes. When loosened, gravity causes the brakes to move away from the wheel treads. Now, in order to keep the hand brakes tight, something must resist gravity. That is where the ratchet and prawl (what looks like a gear box) comes into play. You can apply the brakes by just turning the wheel, but you must press the prawl the release the brakes. If the brake wheel is mounted with the shaft horizontal, it isn't that different from the Ajax hardware on PS-1 boxcars. In my era, all brake staffs were mounted vertically.

    Hope that helps!
  6. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    You can take a look at the Fallen Flags site to see if there are pictures that might be useful. They don't cover everything, but you might get a picture of a car from the same series.

  7. Xiong

    Xiong Member

    It does indeed, but I still have issues. Early steam cars had vertical brake staffs regardless of type -- I agree. Later steam and war era boxes had very short horizontal brake staffs going directly into the housing containing ratchet and pawl -- so I seem to be finding out. Some of these were mounted high on the car end; later, further down. But either way, there isn't any place on an ordinary flat -- it has no ends, of course.

    My research so far shows steel-frame flats with vertical brake staffs. Some are mounted just past the car end; some actually pierce the bed. The former seem to have ratchet and pawl mounted below the frame, near the chain spool; the latter mount ratchet and pawl right on top of the bed. I'm inclined to think that bed-piercing staffs belong more to the wood-frame era. In general, though, I get the impression that flats lag other cars in development. They're a more primitive car.

    As you point out, everything is made murky by the question of prototype upgrades. Some freight cars have a very long life and shops feel free to change anything they please. Flats, particularly, tending to be relatively rare (compared to massive fleets of reefers or tanks), come in for all kinds of unusual attentions.

    I will have to do more research. I think I'm starting to reach the limit of what's practical on the web; soon I'll be haunting the library and ordering expensive print books. As I said earlier, a smarter strategy is to find the prototype info first, then build the car to match. Live and learn.

    One thought -- about which I'm not entirely happy -- is that elaborate brake detailing may be a dead end for me. I aspire to unloaded flats and there's only one place to add weight: underneath. While a certain amount of brake detail is still visible when the car sits on the rail, any illusion is destroyed once the car is flipped over. In another thread, I read discussion of casting flatcar frames from lead. I don't think this is practical for me now.
  8. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    Xiong, that was probably my freight car thread. I'm currently working on two flat cars and two gondolas (one of the gons is nearly finished). On the first two cars, I created a pocket directly under the deck. The compromises with this are that the framing isn't as deep as it is supposed to be, and that the trussrods disappear into this pocket...rather than continuing on to the NBWs at the ends of the cars.

    The second approach is to leave out the intermediate sills and install the weights in between side and main sills. This allows for no compromises to be made with the hardware, except at the coupler pocket truss rods. Neither approach has caused me to have to skimp on the brake parts.

    EDIT: You should pick up a copy of White's American Railroad Freight Car. I have the passenger book, and it gives a great rundown of brakes.
  9. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    There is also the federal regulation aspect of your search for brake wheel locations. Over the years, for safety reasons, the brake wheel location was changed on both new and rebuilt cars.
  10. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Other than the appearance, the main difference between handbrakes with the wheel mounted horizontally at the top of a vertical staff and those with the brakewheel mounted vertically on a housing fastened to the car end is that the later type are known as "power" handbrakes. The "power" is derived from internal gearing. Old-time brakemen carried a wooden brake "club", which was inserted between the spokes of non-power brakewheels to give them more leverage when tieing-down the brakes.
    Gearing could also be applied to the older style handbrakes, usually either below the brake platform on the car end, or at the bottom of the vertical shaft. In the case of a flatcar, the gearing would be attached to the car's endsill: either on the outside face for a brake shaft externally mounted, or on the inside face, beneath the car's floor, for those cars with the brakeshaft mounted through the car's deck.
    Incidently, most flatcars' vertical handbrake shafts can be dis-engaged from the mechanism at the bottom end, allowing the shaft and wheel to drop flush with the upper surface of the deck. This is to allow for lading which would otherwise damage the protruding brake gear.
    On handbrakes with the horizontal wheel atop a vertical shaft, turning the brakewheel merely wraps the short length of chain around the lower end of the vertical shaft, thereby moving the rods beneath the car. With "power" handbrakes, the short length of chain immediately below the gear housing simply winds into the housing. This motion is transferred through a rod to another chain, working on a fulcrum at the bottom of the vertical shaft, which in turn moves the rods beneath the car.

  11. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    Very interesting info, Wayne!
  12. Xiong

    Xiong Member

    I can see how entirely correct that is. I simply have the wrong brake parts entirely -- parts for later cars. Instead of housing and fulcrum, I need the exposed ratchet and pawl.

    The brake club explains the variety of actual brake wheels. Late brake wheels all tend to look alike, with straight, plain spokes. The issue that devils early era modellers (as I note in my sig) is that early brake wheels come in half a dozen different highly detailed designs, some with curved spokes, some with half spokes. If these are different attempts to provide leverage for brake clubs, all becomes clear.

    Except, of course, for the question of which brake wheel for a given car. Since proto photos, even when available, are usually taken from the side, brake wheel spoke detail is often obscured. :(

    I guess I'm glad to be in a hobby where this sort of worry has its place. ;)
  13. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    But Xiong, if know one knows what type the SP used, no know can tell you that you;re wrong ;-)
  14. chooch.42

    chooch.42 Member

    Xiong, Welcome to "The Gauge". Hope we are helping...Wayne,IMHO, has it right. Some few verticle-shaft non-power brake wheels are probably still in use on special service and MOW cars - I've used 'em, and they are a pain and(without the brake club) only marginally effective. The difficulty of finding a protected mounting point for power brake mechanisms on flat cars may be why they are still around. Bob C.
  15. bitlerisvj

    bitlerisvj New Member

    Check out the Tichy flat car:
    You may wish to buy one and see how tey do it. Basically the vertical staff goes into the paul and tooth mechanism on the flatcar end/floor. The remaining brake work underneathis similar to box cars. The Tichy Flat car comes with the old styl K Brake system
    Good luck and regards, Vic Bitleris

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